Delighted to say that as part of the Official Blog Tour for The Chimes I talk to the author Anna Smaill about her debut book as well the Man Booker Prize and also poetry. I also review The Chimes and there is also a chance to enter a free prize draw to win a copy of the 2015 Man Booker Prize longlister.
MEET THE AUTHOR
ANNA SMAILL – THE CHIMES
~ OFFICIAL BLOG TOUR 2016 ~
In the latest in a series of Meet the Author Interviews I talk Anna Smaill about her debut best-selling and Man Booker Longlister 2015 novel The Chimes which is has just been released in paperback.
Your first novel The Chimes is stunning. Music plays an important in the book. What challenges did you face when you came up with the idea for the book?
Thank you, that’s really kind. To be honest, when I started writing, the book felt like a series of insurmountable problems. I think, in fact, that this is what kept me writing – it was like a very intriguing and deeply personal labyrinth. I had to solve it in order to get out. The central problem was dealing with a first-person narrator with memory loss, while writing in the present tense. I needed to convey the fact that, for Simon, the same day seems to repeat itself interminably, yet I also needed to move the plot forward. The first third of the book was reshuffled countless times. It was a challenge also understanding the way in which music orders the world – how far I could stretch this idea, and the limits and implications of it.
The cover art design is very unique and beautiful. Did you come up with the idea for the artwork?
I’m glad you feel that way. I adore it too. I would love to claim some sort of influence over the cover design, but in fact it’s down to my editor Drummond’s excellent instinct, the genius of the illustrator Rich Gemell, and the wonderful design team at Sceptre. I remember waiting nervously to see the first sketch and glimpsing it as a preview thumbnail on my email. I could tell it was right, even before I’d downloaded it and seen it properly, and even in black and white. It just had a wonderful idiosyncratic, off-kilter texture in the water and cityscape, which keyed so closely with my sense of the book. In colour it came alive. I’m particularly fond of the paperback design, which employs another brilliant illustration from Rich.
What was it like when it was announced that you had been Longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize?
Quite dreamlike, actually – in the sense that it was utterly unexpected and in such surreal juxtaposition to the day I’d had. I was just about to go to bed when I got an email from my editor. Ten minutes later it was announced on Twitter and my timeline exploded. It’s very much a cliché, but it did feel like time slowed down, and I couldn’t speak to explain to my husband for a few seconds. After it sunk in, I felt incredibly happy. There is so much that is fraught in publishing your debut novel, and so many hurdles along the way. It felt like a wonderful moment not just for me, but for my agent and editor and everyone at Sceptre who had taken a gamble on the book
I talk to a lot of authors about their writing routines and their hopes and fears. Can you describe yours?
My writing routine is still evolving. I started writing The Chimes while juggling a series of unfulfilling part-time jobs. Writing felt clandestine and secretive, and I fit it in around other things. I tended to write in the British Library, or my local library. Then my daughter was born, and writing became an evening pursuit, or something snatched in daytime naps. As soon as I had some regular days of childcare, however, my routine solidified a lot. When I have a whole day to write, it essentially still follows this pattern: get up, say goodbye to husband and daughter, brew a pot of tea, sit down, write. I tend to do most of the main composition in the morning. After lunch I usually read, edit, and type up (I write longhand first). This general routine is most productive when I’m in the middle of a book. When I’m in the earlier stages, as I am at present, there is a larger component of reading, sketching, thinking, and looking out the window.
Did you manage to read any of the other finalists for the Man Book Prize and did you have a favourite?
A few days after the longlisting I was paid in book vouchers for an event. It seemed too fortuitous a moment to pass up, so I went straight to a bookshop and bought all of the other novels on the list. This was a trifle ambitious and not remotely cool of me, but glorious nonetheless. I have still only read a handful, but to me Marilynne Robinson’s Lila is simply indelible. The story and language are simple, but her experience and wisdom and the humanity she manages to distil in the story is remarkable. I find her work and philosophy very moving.
I understand you had a book of poetry published. Is there a chance that one day we could see another?
I’d like to say yes, but I’m really not sure. There was something about writing poetry that effectively rescued me from the emotional quandary that resulted when I stopped playing the violin. I really needed to write that book. The intensity of linguistic attention directly derived from the intensity of my musical practice and the sort of thinking I had developed around it. I do think poets are a different breed from prose writers – their insights and drives move differently, and come from different locations. I still have some doubts about which camp I fall into. I haven’t felt that moment of inspiration that I recognise as the seed of a poem for a while, but I do hope it comes back at some point.
How is your second book coming along? Can you give a little insight as to what we can expect to see?
It’s going well, I think. Halting, but with increasing jolts of enjoyment! I hope that it will have a similar density and strangeness to The Chimes, though it’s actually set in contemporary Tokyo. It’s much more familiar and knowable an environment on the surface, but with trapdoors into a complex, more fantastic landscape also.
What is the book you are currently reading?
Moby Dick. Whenever people have those discussions about which classic novel they’re most ashamed not to have read, that’s mine. My father read it last year, and – as we’re secretly competitive with our reading – now I have to stop prevaricating and just read it.
I am extremely grateful to Anna Smaill for taking the time to take part in ‘Meet the Author’. If you would like more information on Anna Smaill’s work, please annasmaill.com
The Chimes by Anna Smaill
The Last Word Review
A wonderfully hypnotic debut fantasy that draws the reader in. A dazzling read
Now just published in paperback is the wonderfully hypnotic debut The Chimes from the New Zealand born writer/poet Anna Smaill. This is a fantasy tale that takes a little time to become tuned into the authors musical background that she has used to great effect in The Chimes as read on the rewards come to you.
Simon has left his home following the death of his parents and heads for London he is not sure why. But he is inexorably drawn here. All he carries with him is a bag of objects that are personal to Simon they help him remember and recall moments. Important in a world that at the end of every day memories are wiped clean when The Chimes sound in fact it is a world were memory is banned. Music is the key in this dystopian world were every life in its every form is orchestrated by music. This is imagination in all its pure glory.
When in London Simon now meets up with Lucien, who is different to most and Lucien takes an interest in Simon because of his recollections thanks to his bag of memories. As the story unfolds here Simon begins to understand he was being drawn to London for a reason, that reason is to find a friend of his mother. But there is so much more to Smaill’s storytelling. Imagine a world where everyone carries a bag of memories and what would happen if that bag where lost or were to be stolen. Anyone reading this may think that in this world everyone suffers from a form of amnesia their lives seem to be in a day to day state of flux.
The world that Simon and Lucien do inhabit is one in its most basic, food is hard to come by and lodgings are very basic. In a world where memory is wiped clean at the end of every day the past history and memory is referred to as ‘blasphony’.
Everyone who reads The Chimes will have their own unique opinion as to how it effects them personally but I felt it was like waking from a dreamy state of mind, it could be just that is exactly how Smaill wanted this to be read and seen. But it a story that is so well crafted and put together and I can see why so many plaudits came its way as it was longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2015.
The Chimes may not appeal to the disconcerting reader but for those seeking a unique and remarkable read, then enter the world of Simon and Lucien and a world were memory no longer exists.
Thank you to Ruby Mitchell and the publishers Sceptre for a copy of The Chimes
The Chimes written by Anna Smaill is published by Sceptre and is now available in paperback.
Competition time. I have a copy of The Chimes to give away in a free prize draw. Head over to my Twitter page: @Thelastword1962 Just follow and retweet the post for ‘Pinned’ Tweet and you will go into the draw to win one of the copies in paperback.
*Please note: UK only prize draw. Winning book issued by publisher. Entry closes today at 8pm this evening 27 January 2016. Entries after this time will not be included.