Christopher Priest has a new novel out in ‘The Gradual’ and we’re thrilled to have a chance to interview him once again. He previously joined us after having released ‘The Adjacent’ and shared some insights on his writing process, work being converted to films, and so much more!
In ‘The Gradual’ we are given a world at war that takes queues from ‘1984’ and a few subtle looks at how our own societies could be thought of. The novel is described as:
Alesandro grows up in Glaund, a fascist state constantly at war with a faceless opponent. His brother is sent off to war; his family is destroyed by grief. Occasionally he catches glimpses of islands in the far distance from the shore, and they feed into the music he composes—music for which he is feted. His search for his brother brings him into contact with the military leadership and suddenly he is a fugitive on the run—he seeks refuge on the islands and his endless travels take him through places and time, bringing him answers where he could not have foreseen them.
Science Fiction (SF): Christopher, first let me thank you for taking the time to join us for another interview! If you could tell us a little about what readers can expect from ‘The Gradual’ past what the synopsis gives us?
Christopher Priest (CP): I see it as being about creativity – where does the creative urge come from, how should we understand and use it? Alesandro Sussken, the protagonist, and narrator knows only that he is musically gifted, and he’s comfortable with that. He’s become a successful composer of modern classical music. But as he travels through the islands he begins to sense that his gift is of a quality he had not previously recognized: inspiration rises unexpectedly and in ways he can only barely grasp. Then there is what he learns about the passage of time, the gradual measure of time. Being a musician he thinks of it as tempo, but time affects human lives as well as music. He keeps being mugged by people who know how to reverse time or save him bits of time he has lost or squandered. The Gradual is, in fact, a time-travel story … but not like any you’ve read before.
SF: It is quite clear that you’ve switched up your writing style a bit when it comes to ‘The Gradual’ in how the tale was narrated chronologically, was there any specific reasoning behind this or did it just fit with the story that you wanted to tell?
CP: Every novel has an inner ‘voice’ and you have to catch that, release it. I wrote the first draft in the third person, but as soon as I switched to first person Sandro came alive for me. His story is told in straightforward chronological style, but that’s how most music is played: one note after another.
SF: Are there any specific real life influences that lead to your telling of ‘The Gradual’?
CP: I think the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño is probably the key to this book. I love his work, but I also admire his outlook, the things he was loyal to. He was fan of SF, incidentally, who had read all the classics and used to go to SF conventions. His books are brilliant. He died tragically young.
SF: In the novel, we follow Alesandro stumble down a dangerous path of awareness as he learned about life outside his island. How much did you want self-discovery to be a theme within the story?
CP: Isn’t all fiction about self-discovery, to one degree or another? Also, because The Gradual is a novel about a writer (of music), it points up the fact that all artists are stumbling down that dangerous path you describe. Everything written or drawn or composed reveals something to the person creating it. It’s an extraordinary experience.
SF: While you can’t quite compare the world that you’ve created to George Orwell’s classic ‘1984’ It would be hard to not mention it here. Would you say that it had inspired you at all in either what you built or avoiding tropes that he had already used?
CP: To be honest I never thought of Orwell when I was working on the book. Nineteen Eighty-Four is about politics and thought-control – The Gradual is about time travel and songs. For the background of Sandro’s life I was thinking more of the gray, faceless régimes, often backed by military muscle, that have dominated many parts of the world. They are mostly crap on personal freedom, restrictive of travel and movement and dissidence, they close churches and build terrible estates of poor housing … but largely through blundering misunderstandings of the arts (thinking that putting up a huge opera house, or giving writers ridiculously large bursaries, is compensation for their insane attempts to control free speech), such beleaguered countries often see the emergence through struggle of world-class artistic talents.
SF: Alesandro and his family are musicians, is there a reason you went with this form of art for the family?
CP: I love music, and rather admire the lives of musicians.
SF: Once again this story takes places in the “Dream Archipelago”, are there any ties to your other stories which can be found within?
CP: Not really. There is a passing similarity to an earlier novella called ‘The Discharge’ (an artist goes on an enlightening tour of the islands), but The Gradual really is a standalone book.
SF: In ‘The Gradual’ you give us an almost surreal landscape. Is the dreamlike quantity of the lands that Alesandro visits written that way purposely?
CP: All fiction is dream, all memory is fragmentary. Dreams cease when you wake, memory can be lost or recovered unpredictably. But dreams and memories are the real shapers of our everyday lives, and it is the unique and valuable function of fantastic literature to inform us of the importance of these nebulous experiences.
SF: Is the part of the world which Glaund and the islands beyond one that you would consider revisiting in the future?
CP: I think I’m done with them for the time being. The novel I’m working on at the moment has no connection at all with the Dream Archipelago. However, you never know what might come after that …
SF: Do you have any works in progress that you could share a few details on for what to expect coming up?
CP: I have a short story collection nearly ready to go, containing stuff that most people will never have seen. The novel I just mentioned is really just in the initial stages – I’ve only written about 15 pages so far, although I have most of it worked out in my mind. I try never to talk about what I’m working on – not to be secretive, but like the magicians I’ve written about in the past, I’m terrified that if people know what I’m doing everything will go wrong!
SF: Thanks again for joining us today, is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
CP: Be kind to cats and children.
Stuart Conover is an author, blogger, and all around geek. When not busy being a father and husband he tries to spend as much time as possible immersed in comic books, science fiction, and horror! Would you like to know more? Follow him on Twitter!