“Soon is partly a novel about story-telling, about fiction and about art”: an interview with Charlotte Grimshaw

Jane interviewed New Zealand author Charlotte Grimshaw who will be speaking at the The Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. Steve Braunias will be talking with Charlotte and her father C.K. Stead about how power plays out in their fictional landscapes.

Charlotte Grimshaw is a New Zealand author of five books and two short story collections. She has been the recipient of many awards and also writes a monthly column for Metro.

Soon is her latest book, a follow on from the Night Book with Simon Lampton now on a summer break at the Prime Minister’s holiday home. He is negotiating the  fallout from his affair, tricky family machinations, corruption and a crumbling mental state. A parallel fantasy story told to the Prime Minister’s son by his wife Roza introduces an uncomfortable story about a character called “Soon” which has uncanny parallels to the dramas that are developing in the lives of the adults present.

When I finished Soon it felt like there was more to come.  Are you planning a third book in this series?

I’m now writing a sequel to Soon. Many people have said to me they want to know what happens next – particularly since the book ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger – so I decided I wanted to know too.

If there is to be a third book do you think we might hear more from Dr Lampton’s rather rebellious daughter, I found her quite intriguing and enjoyed the relationship she had with her father.

Of all the women in the novel, Dr Lampton’s rebellious daughter is the one whose personality is closest to mine. I’ve drawn on my own memories of being a teenager. It’s not a self-portrait, but I have a lot of sympathy for her struggles. She is bound to resurface somewhere, either in the next novel or in a subsequent one.

I was intrigued that I wanted Simon Lampton to succeed in his deception about Arthur Weeks’ death (even if it was accidental). Was it your intention for readers to have this sort of reaction?

I’m very pleased that you wanted Simon to succeed in his deception about Weeks’s death. I hope this means I’ve created a character for whom a reader can have empathy, as he gets himself into more and more trouble.

How did Roza’s fantasy story that she tells to her son Jonnie develop, was it something you planned or did it evolve as the novel was written?

Soon is partly a novel about story-telling, about fiction and about art. The fantasy story is a commentary and a satire on the main action, and Roza is, in comic terms, an anarchic artist. I had two statements in mind when I wrote the novel: 1) Ford’s line, “It is not intellectually good enough to be apolitical” and 2) The Woody Allen line, “The artist creates his own moral universe.”

The novel explores those ideas, which are not necessarily contradictory. As for the fantasy story, I had it all in my head, because I told my younger son a continuous Soon story from when he was three years old to when he turned ten, every day, often for up to an hour a day. It was exhausting, but rewarding. I have used only a fraction of seven years of Soon in the novel. The way the story started was exactly as it happens in the first chapter of the book. Having said all that I should add that the character of Roza is nothing like me. She is an entirely invented person, different from me in many many ways.

I would say in general that we love to hate our politicians. Certainly the ones we meet in The Night book and Soon are rather unpleasant.  Are they an indication of what you think about politicians?

I don’t hate politicians generally, although some are quite hateable as individuals. When I wrote The Night Book and Soon I partly had in mind the relationship between Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler. To put it briefly, Speer was a technocrat, and fairly apolitical, and he fell in with a group of politicians who led him very much astray.

We are always interested to know what part libraries have played in writers lives?

Libraries are vital and indispensable and should be preserved at all costs. I’ve used libraries since I was a child, and all my children have always had huge benefit from libraries.  Having said that, all writers wish people would buy their books rather than say they’re waiting for a copy at the library.

Do you believe that in order to write you need to read?  Is there anything you have read lately that you would recommend to our customers?

You can’t be a writer without reading all the time. In fact if anyone says they’re a writer but they don’t read much, you can tell straight away they won’t be any good. Lately I’ve reread The Untouchable by John Banville, Inside Hitler’s Bunker by Joachim Fest and I’m about to read Canada by Richard Ford.

I see that you are speaking alongside your father at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival about how power plays out in your fiction. Does power come from money and status or is this too simplistic?

My book is about political power in New Zealand, which can be achieved without too much money, (unlike in the U.S., say.) My father’s book is more about money and power, in that it’s about banking.

Are you planning to go to any of the sessions at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival and if so, what are you looking forward to?

I’ll be going to as many festival sessions as I can.

Best regards,

Thank you Charlotte for giving such interesting answers. We are getting to as many festival sessions as we can too, only days away now …