I was given the chance to read A.C. Tillyer’s extremely impressive début collection An A-Z of Possible Worlds a couple of months ago. This is what I wrote:
Bristling with intelligence and invention, often drily hilarious and occasionally chilling, this collection of interconnected stories is both a joy to read and the most appealing and effective primer of political thought I’ve come across for some time. AC Tillyer’s 26 possible worlds, arranged alphabetically from Archipelago to Zero Gravity Zone, insistently probe the meaning of power and its misuse, the rise of prejudice and authoritarianism, the role of capital, the lies we tell ourselves and each other in order to survive as societies - and they do so in an authoritative, highly readable fashion, with more insight and wit than many books ten times the size of this collection. Each small tale is both a parable and a perfectly realized world; taken together they turn into reflecting facets of a single world, that of Tillyer’s remarkable imagination, irreducible to mere allegory, a world that contains bog-people and multi-storey car parks without embarrassment. Echoes of writers as diverse as Swift and Tolkien, Borges and Magnus Mills, only reinforce the originality of Tillyer’s take on how we live – and fail to live – together. An impressive and thought-provoking collection by someone who deserves to be widely-read.
The book is now officially out, I'm more convinced than ever of its worth, and I'm delighted to have its author drop in on my blog to answer a few questions.
It’s a universal truth (or it feels like one) that publishers are wary of unpublished authors and first books, and this wariness increases exponentially if the first book is a collection of short stories, despite a recent revival of interest in the form. A-Z is a pretty high concept, but it still can’t have been easy to find someone both wise and adventurous enough to take it on. Can you tell us a little about the book’s pre-publication history and how you found Roast Books, or they found you?
You mentioned on Nik's blog, that you're working on something longer. A-Z is such an original concept in so many ways – not only formally – that I imagine it’s a fairly hard act to follow. Assuming your new book is fiction (which is a big assumption) I was wondering if it was a novel, or a series of stories, interconnected or otherwise, and, if the former, whether you planned to abandon the societal, collective take on human behaviour that characterises A-Z for something that operates at a more individual, even psychological, level, which is what we now tend to expect from the novel form, although this isn’t always, or necessarily, so (vide Kafka, one of the literary antecedents that’s been mentioned in connection with your work). Can you give us some idea of what to expect?
I noticed that you particularly like stories that have what looks like a surprise ending, but is actually one that the story has been intent on preparing from the outset. So do I!
Good! I always feel somewhat cheated when there's a big 'Ta Darr" moment at the end that you had no chance of predicting. It's the ones that, once you think about it, have endings that are built in from the very start that are so satisfying. They make you want to go back and read them again right away.
But I have the feeling that that kind of story is seen as slightly unfashionable these days, now that so much short fiction seems to work with the fleeting emotional moment, with ambiguity rather than closure, offering epiphanic fragments of experience that the reader is required to piece together. Any views on this?
Well, stuff fashion, is what I say!! These fleeting emotional moments are all very well but, when I read a story, I'm constantly asking why is he or she telling me this? It's all very nice to know that somebody's sorted out their relationship with their mother or whatever, but why should I care? Actually, I hate the idea of building a believable character by giving them a childhood, a couple of interesting hobbies and string of likes and dislikes. I just don't think people work like that. And a lot of the time, I don't want to know the intricacies of a character's thought processes. If somebody reacts a certain way to a particular situation, I think it's better to let the reader decide why they did so. Hearing a character's thoughts is fine: we talk to ourselves all the time, but I honestly don't believe we say things like 'I want to win this so much because I need the approval that I never had as a child' or whatever. I'm being deliberately crass, but you know what I mean! It's too easy to slot in a few details about a character's past and let the reader play psychologist, fitting them together until they have an 'ah-ha' moment and think they understand the motives behind a set of actions. You're the author, get on with the story. Let's start a resistance!
I went to a talk recently where the speaker declared that only the first-person or the third-person-subjective point of view is acceptable these days. According to her, the 'authorial- omniscient' narrator is dead. Well! I was so annoyed I could hardly speak. Maybe I just hate blanket statements like that and automatically want to sabotage them but I don't agree. If I want togo into all my characters' heads, or none at all, then I will. One of my favourite moments from The Leopard is when Chevalley and the Prince walk through the poverty-stricken village in the early morning. Chevalley wants to modernize Sicily and yet he's sad when he thinks that: '"This state of things won't last; our lively new modern administration will change it all."' But the Prince is also depressed: '"All this shouldn't last; but it will..."' They both think they'll get what they want and yet they're both unhappy at the prospect. Without an omniscient narrator, that poignancy would be lost. And, if you added the kind of cod-psychology to it that we were talking about before, they should both be happy they're getting what they want. No surprise, no insight - all lost because of an utterly ridiculous rule. I could give you more examples but on this one alone, I rest my case. So, prescriptive notions: bad!
For details of the other dates on the blog tour, click here. The next stop is at Caroline Smailes In Search of Me on 4 November. You'll find links to two of the stories on Nik Perring's blog and to two more at East of the Web. For more information about the book itself, and its author, click here. And, perhaps most important, you can buy it from Amazon by clicking here. Trust me, you won't regret it.
And yes, that's Anne in the post below...