I’m thrilled to have Ivo Stourton on the blog today! I loved his newest book, THE HAPPIER DEAD, and he kindly answered a few questions about it, and more! Please give him a warm welcome!
The Happier Dead is quite a departure from your other two novels (The Night Climbers and The Book Lover’s Tale). What inspired you to write it?
The Night Climbers and The Book Lover’s Tale were both traditional works of realistic literary fiction. When I came to sit down for the third book, I realised I found it hard to say something truthful about the world without talking about technology- the way it changes us and mediates our experience of reality. Technology itself moves so fast, if you’re writing about it in the present, by the time your book comes out it’s about the past. Also, the scope for gunfights and explosions is much smaller in traditional literary fiction, and I am a big fan of gunfights and explosions.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background? What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
Yes- I have written and read ever since I can remember. I lived a lot of my life in my head as a child, and I still spend a lot of time there now. I am English, but grew up abroad following my father, who was a foreign correspondent for the BBC, first during the Reagan administration in Washington, and later in Paris. We moved back to London when I was eight, and I still live there now. I am married and in addition to writing I work as a lawyer in the City.
I was ten when I wrote my first real story- we were coming back from a holiday and got delayed for eight hours in the airport. Giving me a pen and notepad was the cheapest way my parents could think to stop me asking “Can we go now? Now? How about now?” It was about a takeover of a London borough by a communist splinter group. I don’t think I knew what communism was and I don’t think the story was very good.
For those that haven’t read the book, will you tell us about the London that features in The Happier Dead?
I started writing The Happier Dead shortly after the London riots of summer 2011, which was a strange time to be in the city- the unrest and lawlessness seemed to come from nowhere, and the physical fabric of familiar streets changed. Some things were burned down, some smashed up. Safe neighborhoods became dangerous. The London of The Happier Dead is the city revealed to me by the riots- a place where the order of civil society is one outrage away from collapse.
What kind of research did you do for The Happier Dead?
Some of the book is set in the mid 1970s, and I researched elements of 70s pop culture to make sure the environment was authentic. I spent a pretty odd afternoon going through old records of top of the pops I also had help from a policeman friend who read through it and corrected the worst mistakes!
The Happier Dead combines two of my favorite genres: British procedural and SF. Did you set out do this from the beginning, or did it just evolve that way?
Evolution. SF I love as a reader- the sense of wonder it can create, the strangeness and lucidity of the best SF ideas. So I think I had probably been building up to SF for a long time. Police procedural I have come to love as a writer- the way the development of the case furnishes a ready made skeleton for the plot, and suspense naturally builds with the investigation. So I set out to write the SF, and the procedural element emerged from the ooze.
What is your writing process like?
Because I work as a lawyer, time is a big pressure for me. I write in the evenings and at weekends, but I try to think about my story and my characters in all idle moments- on the Underground on my way to work, or in my lunchbreak. A first draft of 80,000 words takes me about a year- then I share it with my agent and two friends whose opinion I value. Then it goes to my editor. The book changes a huge amount with each person’s comments. My process is more a collaboration than anything.
What are a few of your biggest literary influences?
JG Ballard, Philip K Dick, Patrick Hamilton, George Eliot and Graham Greene.
If you could choose one book to experience again for the first time, which one would it be?
20,000 Streets Under the Sky.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your free time?
Reading, family, video games, friends. As little as I can of the video games, as much as I can of the others.
What’s next for you?
I’m almost done with the first draft of the next book in the Inspector Oates trilogy, so I guess that’s the next big thing. A movie is also currently being made of The Night Climbers, and although my involvement is pretty minimal I still find it hugely exciting.
Keep up with Ivo: Goodreads