Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in South London and grew up in various place in the South East of England.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
There were very few books in the house. No fiction at all. My first influence came from English teachers at school – a rather enlightened man gave me Crime and Punishment at fourteen. It all started there. And probably all ends there. My new novel has been compared to Dostoyevsky.
Why do you write?
No choice. I’m not sure I even want to. (I don’t: I hate it.) I just start forming sentences in my head (brain or mind, who knows) spontaneously. I don’t feel particularly in control of it and can’t stop it. It’s a curse.
How do you choose your subjects?
They choose me. With my new novel As a God Might Be the first sentence came to me, “He built a house and next to it a church”. I wrote it down and was off.
How do you move from research to writing; is it difficult to begin?
I don’t really believe in (too) much research. The point about fiction is it’s made up. That said for this novel I based much on my own family. And I read a lot of theology.
As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
Not sure. But I am told my erotic passages are very good.
Your views on success?
I’ll let you when I know what it feels like. But failure is not an option with this book.
Do you write every day? Do you do many drafts?
I don’t tend to write every day, but that’s because life gets in the way. I write between the cracks. I tend to start from the first sentence and see how far I can get, then go back to the first sentence and see how much further I can get, then go back to the first sentence and see if I can get to the end – each time revising. Then that starts all over again. This novel took nine years.
What are you working on now?
I’m thinking about a memoir that starts on the day I was born, and then goes backwards. I exist because of a tragedy followed by bad decision-making.
Your views on book publishing?
Small press publishing is the most exciting place to be. Fitzcarraldo Editions is publishing masterpiece after masterpiece. Jacques Testard is the outstanding editor/curator of literature of our time. We are lucky to have him.
Do you enjoy reading ebooks?
No, and I don’t.
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life? Your views on social media?
I’m beginning to think Social Media is less useful than we think it is to get anything done. Booktube is great – some really clever and passionate people talking about books. Where else can you find Ulysses read-throughs?
What are your favorite literary journals?
I’m very fond of the range of the Times Literary Supplement. Does The New Yorker count? The White Review. I’m not really a journal reader.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
Probably 1922: year of Ulysses and The Wasteland. But equally, late 1950s New York. I like the tailoring and cocktails.
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Abraham Lincoln, Dostoevsky, George Eliot, Marilynne Robinson, Rowan Williams.
Your favourite prose authors?
James Salter, Edith Wharton, Saul Bellow, Marilynne Robinson.
Your heroes in fiction? And in real life?
In fiction: Moses Herzog. I LOVE Bathsheba Everdene. In real life: Abraham Lincoln – as someone said: “an almost perfect man”.
What other authors are you friends with? How do they help you become a better writer?
I really don’t know any other writers. Not as friends.
Your chief characteristic?
Your chief fault?
Your bedside reading?
I’ve read a lot of biographies of American presidents over the last 18 months.
Just because I haven’t, doesn’t mean I won’t. Just because I might, doesn’t mean I will.
Neil Griffiths is the author of Betrayal in Naples, winner of the Authors’ Club Best First Novel, and Saving Caravaggio, short-listed for the Costa Novel of the Year. As a God Might Be is published by Dodo Ink on 26 October. He is the founder of the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses.
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