Give us a view into your life as a novelist whose book was recently published. What type of work does the novel call forth from you on this side of publication? I did a ten-day, ten-city tour in the US in April. It was exhilarating and exhausting. Have had some events in England since then, I have loved all of it. Also now getting requests for comments and blurbs on two kinds of book: Midwestern memoirs and bird books. Enjoying the Midwestern memoirs much more than I expected to. Now that the tour is over and the events over here largely done, I should get back to work writing fiction. Well, I have. Intermittently. Publishing does take over your life for a while, though.
Did you draw from your own experiences as a birdwatcher in writing your story, and if so, in what ways? For me it was a summer job I did as an undergraduate. Nathan, the narrator and protagonist of Snapper, makes a sort of eight-year career out of it. I embellished and exaggerated some of my own experiences, borrowed some others, and made other things up. I did not do much bird research — I tried to stick to what I was pretty sure of from experience.
Making fiction entertaining must take work. Making it funny must be either natural or laborious. How did you gauge your great humor’s effectiveness as you wrote? Actually took a lot of jokes out of the MS. Underneath Nathan’s irrepressible drollery some sad things are going on. I always tried to find a balance between the comical and the melancholic. One thing that helped was reading everything out loud. Some things that looked OK on the page didn’t quite sound right, so I struck them.
This novel is as much about Indiana as it is other things. How did you come to write about Indiana? It’s what I know. A few years ago (a bit pre-Snapper) I was there and someone asked what a certain plant was. I knew, and I knew various things about it, but I didn’t know how I knew or when or where I had learned what I knew. In England I can’t identify plants or birds or much of anything else. When I’ve written about England I’ve written less vividly. I could feel Indiana coming alive as I wrote, so I ran with it.
Indiana becomes visible geography for us readers. How have people began responding to learning about the state that by the main character’s perspective is overlooked or misunderstood? Have you heard from residents of my neighboring state? Nathan’s pretty savage about Indiana, but most readers as far as I can tell take him with a grain of salt. In general, responses have been very positive. (A number of British readers in particular have said they wanted to go to Indiana when they had finished the book). I’m sure there are or will be a few offended Hoosiers out there, though.
Nathan’s experiences are detailed with a researcher’s specificity. How did his appreciation and knowledge of his town and his work areas express his love, his devotion? He seemed to like his work. It is a pretty nostalgic book, underneath the jokes and the disparagements of Indiana. He details it not just specifically but lovingly, I think. He doesn’t quite appreciate just how free and fortunate he is at the time of doing the job — it is only in retrospect that he suspects he may have had it pretty good for a while.
Will you talk about your process of becoming a writer? Were you always a writer or did you become one? I’ve been writing since high school at least. Prior to Snapper I wrote and produced several plays at a theatre five minutes’ walk from my house in England. That was very helpful preparation for Snapper as I began to enjoy writing
dialogue, setting scene, et cetera.
What are you reading these days? Currently on Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Never read her before; glaring negligence on my part. I just finished The Distancers by Lee Sandlin and Leaving Rollingstone by Kevin Fenton — the Midwestern memoirs I mentioned above. I enjoyed them both very much.