Lisa (@ Over the Effing Rainbow), Jorie (@ Jorie Loves a Story) and imyril (@ One More) are delighted to bring you WYRD AND WONDER, where they plan to celebrate all things fantastical throughout the month of May!
Today I am interviewing Jeff Noon, author of the new fantasy novel, The Body Library, second book in the Nyquist series.
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DJ: Hi Jeff! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Jeff Noon: I started writing plays in my early 30s, had some success with that, and lots of rejection slips! And then I switched to novels in the early 1990s. My first novel was Vurt, an attempt to portray the city of Manchester as I witnessed it around me at the time, while projecting it into a slightly alternative reality. The book came out on a tiny independent publisher but was lucky enough to win the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and so that was the start of my career as a science fiction author. I have written a good number of novels and short stories since then, in various styles, all of them hovering somewhere around the avant pulp interface.
DJ: What is The Body Library and then the Nyquist series about?
Jeff: The Body Library is the follow-up to A Man of Shadows and continues my SF Private Eye series. Each novel is set in a different city, and each city contains a different weird or fantastical element. So the first book was set in a city called Dayzone, where the sky is completely covered in lamps of various kinds: it never goes dark. The novel explores the concept of time as a liquid substance. Because the city is completely cut off from the normal cycles of day and night, time has dissolved into a complex series of interconnecting time lines. Nyquist leaves that city at the end of the book and The Body Library finds him taking up residence in a new city, one obsessed with language and stories. He gets caught up in a murder mystery that takes him closer and closer to the heart of storytelling, until he actually becomes a character and enters the story. The book explores many different ideas of narrative and what stories mean to different people. The Nyquist series as a whole places a lone individual against a world he can barely understood in its entirety, and then sets him on a path that leads to the very heart of the mystery. I tried to make sure that the second book stands on its own, separate from the first book, so they could be enjoyed separately. Although, of course, they work best as a series.
DJ: What were some of your influences for the Nyquist series?
Jeff: The first spark came from a rereading of Italo Calvino’s collection Invisible Cities, a series of short essays, each describing a different city and its fantastical nature. As I was reading through the book, the thought came to me: what would it be like to write a detective story set in each of these cities? Now the cities that Nyquist visits have nothing to do with Calvino’s creations, but that was the original inspiration for a private eye fantasy series. Style wise I went back to the noir novels I have always loved to read: Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Lawrence Block, and so on. The Nyquist books have fun with the tropes of noir, hopefully pushing them into interesting and surprising realms.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Jeff: Because Nyquist goes to a different city every time, there are no other recurring characters. Each time I invent a new cast from scratch. Nyquist himself contains some of the classic noir traits: a loner, likes to drink, unlucky in love, etc. I really wanted him to be placed in that tradition, just because I love it so much as a reader. But that is only the starting point. When first creating a character I usually start from the environment, and then place the protagonist in opposition to it. So in A Man of Shadows, the most dangerous area of the city is known as Dusk. I wanted Nyquist to enter this forbidden zone, and I needed him to be the very last person who would want to do such a thing: he had to be terrified. So I started from that fear: what kind of person would be scared of dusk? He grew from there. I think he also has a romantic soul, despite his loneliness, and this comes out in the way he views the world, and how he reacts to it. When called on he has a heart of iron, and will never give up on a quest, whatever it might be. This takes him into some very strange and deadly places. But he never stops! That’s the key for me: he never, ever stops moving forward, seeking the next clue, the answer to the riddle, the mystery. I gather other characters around him, as I need, trying to make each one distinct, and always with a certain relationship to the city, or a highly specific role within it. Each one has a secret that Nyquist needs to uncover.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the the Nyquist series like?
Jeff: I have no interest at all in writing about dystopias. So I try to create cities which are exciting to live in, that offer people joy and thrills and various temptations. The cities are created by the people themselves, following their own desires. I then darken things a little, introducing forbidden areas, and quirky psychological effects and similar. Nyquist is always in direct contact with this world, and as the story’s go on, he tends to actually merge with the central mystery. I try to build cities containing lots of different environments: rich and poor, left and right, from the highest power to the homeless on the street: I want Nyquist to visit every possible area, to give the reader a complete tour of the city, and its strangeness. I want the city to surprise the reader, so I always make sure it opens out into weirder areas. The books are set in an alternative 1959, so I’m careful to keep within the realms of that historical period, regarding architecture, technology, fashion, etc, and to place the fantasy elements firmly within that reality.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the first book of the Nyquist series? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
Jeff: We’ve had really good reviews for the first book in the series, and some amazing early ones for the second book. It’s very gratifying to know that readers are responding to the character, the series, the ideas behind it. I write for the reader, that’s a very important part of what I do. People are already asking me about the third Nyquist book, so the interest is there. It’s the first time I’ve tackled an on-going series with definite follow-on books, taking one character on a journey across several stories. It’s a fascinating process. In both books I get the impression that readers like the worlds, and how Nyquist intersects with the city, and also the language that I use, a fusion of poetic noir stylings with a modern attitude. But it’s a difficult subject to talk about: I’m just glad that people are enjoying them! Really, nothing else matters.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Body Library?
Jeff: I had to write it fairly quickly, and it is a complex story. Both Nyquist books have a very convoluted back-story, and Nyquist can only ever seen a tiny part of it, and I really enjoy that aspect of writing, the craftsmanship of making things happen in the correct way, at the right time, one clue after another. The words flowed out and I tried to control them. I was a bit worried about that, to be honest, but the early reviews have picked up on just that aspect, the craziness of the story and the writing style, and praised it. So that’s a relief! Sometimes a book just takes you over, and it’s just a thrill to create: scary, but exciting. There were passages where I was completely taken over by the words, which is apt, considering it’s set in a city obsessed with storytelling and where language can infect the human body.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Jeff: Impossible to predict, but hopefully… the nature of storytelling. The importance of stories, both linear and experimental, in society.
DJ: Did you have a goal when you began writing the Nyquist series? The series is not yet complete, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Jeff: No, I tend to stay away from big messages, or overarching themes. My feeling is this: the theme will emerge quite naturally from the writing process itself – it doesn’t need to forced in right from the beginning, and it doesn’t need to be spelled out. I write the stories and let them flow naturally, and then place them in front of the public. I’m always surprised at the different interpretations that readers can make: sometime the opposite of what I was going for! But that’s good. Stories exist both on the page and in the reader’s mind. If I was compelled to state a theme for my work, I guess something along the lines of: the struggle to remain an individual in society, and the price we pay for that struggle. A theatre director once described my plays in that way, many, many years ago, and I don’t think much as changed over the decades.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Body Library that you can share with us?
Jeff: This passage, from near the beginning of the book, sets up the city as a living, breathing, storytelling entity:
They came from all directions, from all parts of the city. From the northern quarter, where people told stories only in the dark for fear of awakening the creatures they talked about; from the southern towns, where stories dealt only with the crudest, most base aspects of life; from the east of the city, where novels were written only to make money for the teller and the those who profit from the storyteller’s art; and from the west, where the whisper poets lived with their softly spoken narrative ballads and their barely heard rhymes. From all directions the travellers arrived.
DJ: Now that The Body Library is released, what is next for you?
Jeff: I have a crime book out later this year, not SF, a murder mystery called Slow-Motion Ghosts. I’m currently writing the follow-up to that book, and also formulating plans for Nyquist III. I always have a number of projects on the go at any time, until one of them coalesces into the current work.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: http://bit.ly/JeffNoonBooks
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Body Library and the Nyquist series that we haven’t talked about yet?
Jeff: I didn’t know it at the start, but during the creative process of The Book Library, I realised that I was actually writing a kind of love letter to language itself, to words, and storytelling, and its ability to totally inhabit our being. I’ve been writing now for nearly 40 years, 25 years professionally, and it seems right that I give thanks for the delight stories have given me over the decades.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** The Body Library is published by Angry Robot and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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In a city where words come to life and reality is infected by stories, private eye John Nyquist wakes up in a room with a dead body… The dead man’s impossible whispers plunge him into a murder investigation like no other. Clues point him deeper into an unfolding story infesting its participants as reality blurs between place and genre. Only one man can hope to put it all together, enough that lives can be saved… That man is Nyquist, and he is lost.
About the Author:
Jeff Noon is an award-winning British cult novelist, short story writer and playwright. He won the Arthur C Clarke Award for Vurt, the John W Campbell award for Best New Writer, a Tinniswood Award for innovation in radio drama and the Mobil prize for playwriting. He was trained in the visual arts, and was musically active on the punk scene before starting to write plays for the theatre. His work spans SF and fantasy genres, exploring the ever-changing borderzone between genre fiction and the avant-garde.