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Interview with Adrian Barnes, author of Nod

19 July 2013 | Tom Hunter

Shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award, we chatted to Adrian Barnes about his debut novel, NOD.

Adrian Barnes' debut novel NOD was shortlisted for this year's Arthur C Clarke Award - quite an exceptional achievement for a first novel. Influenced by the work of the dystopian modernity novelist J. G. Ballard, Barnes' novel is a thriller set in world where people are unable to sleep. As this deprivation turns to psychosis, chaos ensues...

 

London Calling: NOD is your first novel, and we're always fascinated by what compels a writer to tell that one story first. What was it about the story that became NOD that made it the one that had to be told?

Adrian Barnes: I’m a big believer that, in the 21st century, novels need to compete with movies and television. NOD was a story idea that seemed to me both ‘literary’ and compelling in a visceral, fairly kinetic way. For similar reasons, it’s short as well. I wanted to write a book that an engaged reader with time on their hands (or an insomnia problem!) could finish in one sitting. One of the most gratifying things about the reception NOD has received is that a good number of readers have told me they read it in a single day.

LC: Some of the reviews we've seen have drawn comparisons between NOD and the apocalyptic novels of J.G.Ballard, and certainly as a fan of both I can see the connection. Was Ballard an influence, and did you have any others?

AB: I read all of Ballard as a teenager and NOD is definitely a kind of homage to all the science fiction novels and movies I’ve loved in my life. NOD is often called ‘apocalyptic’ or ‘dystopian’ and that’s true--but it’s also the way I actually see the world. We live in times where nothing is stable, where nothing we rely on is guaranteed to last past lunch time. Science fiction has always been the literature that accepts this reality. By comparison, other genres seem to exist in a kind of denial.

LC: Following on from this, I think a lot of that comparison might be due to the central narrator and the way he responds to the unfolding crisis. Can you explain what you think is motivating him to act (or not act) as the plot unfolds?

AB: I set out to deliberately make NOD a novel that refused to deliver answers. It’s important for me to leave some of the thinking for the reader to do. Plus, I like the fact that different readers will come up with slightly different takes on the novel’s meaning. I’ll say this, though. Paul, the narrator, is being tugged away from the waking world as the novel progresses. As things get worse all around him, he cares less as the world of sleep beckons. I guess it’s like the Buddhist notion of attachment: those who can’t sleep are stuck in NOD like flies on flypaper. Those who can sleep are letting go of that same world.

LC: You set the book in your home city of Vancouver. Was this a deliberate move to help the research and make the novel more real, or was it more the idea of destroying your home town that really appealed?

AB: Ha! Good question. I tend to set my writing in places I’ve lived because I’m lazy and hate doing research. There’s also the whole ‘let’s deface beloved icons’ aspect of apocalyptic lit. It’s fun to ravage one’s hometown, no doubt! Sorry, Vancouver...

LC: One of the most fascinating parts of the book is the way the sleepless start weaving forgotten words and mythology into their sleep psychosis. Can you tell us a little about the research you put into the fictional book NOD that gives your book its title and the sleepless their spur to insanity?

AB: I’ve always been a fan of etymology. I buy books on the subject and frequently browse the relevant websites along with all the other geeks. I love that there are six different explanations of the origin of the word ‘okay’, for example. Each is compelling and plausible. Each points to a different reality. So I wouldn’t call it research, specifically, as I have a sort of ongoing interest in these words. The idea that these words are keys to banished realities was really appealing to me.

LC: Has the recent Clarke Award nomination made any difference to the book and getting word out there?

AB: Definitely. NOD’s sales went up as soon as the nomination was announced and it’s also helped with film and television interest. More on this to follow, hopefully! I couldn’t be happier about the whole experience (unless I’d actually won!).

LC: And finally ,what are you working on now? Any plans to bring the world of NOD to London for instance?

AB: I have a second novel set to come out in 2014 called Neverhasbeen. It’s science fiction in a very light way, taking place perhaps three or four days in the future at a time when all our current perils are just a step or two closer to reality.

As for NOD in London....hmmm. I wouldn’t mind blowing up the London Eye, thought that’s been done a few times already. I do have ideas for a sequel. One could say that NOD ends with the end of everything and that there’s no room for a sequel. Or one could say that NOD is really a sort of prologue to a new world, and that the story hasn’t even really begun as the first novel ends. I’m fascinated by the idea of how the Sleepers’ dreams might affect the world around them. And what the silent children grow up into. After all, nothing in the novel says that all Sleepers have good dreams....

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