Monday 24 September 2012

Author Interview: Naomi Alderman


"It was a time of brutal tyranny and occupation. Young men and women took to the streets to protest. Dictators put them down with iron force. Rumours spread from mouth to mouth. Rebels attacked the greatest empire the world has ever known.The Empire gathered its forces to make those rebels pay. 

And in the Midst of all of that. One inconsequential preacher died. And either something miraculous happened, or someone lied."  


At the launch of THE LIARS GOSPEL, Naomi Alderman was introduced to us all by Penguin editor, Mary Mount, as 'one of the most important writers of her generation'. I've been very lucky to have spent time with her at a writers group and seen her work in progress. She is a brilliant writer and a gorgeous person. I am thrilled to have her on my blog.

We all cheered when you told us that so far you’ve had no death threats. Is this a genuine concern?

I have already had anti-Semitic emails about the novel, so... maybe? I'm a bit worried about what will happen when the novel is published in the US. But we'll see!

Are you apprehensive of people feeling angry?

Yeah. I don't actually want to upset people, but when I gave it to a Christian friend she burst into tears at a section where she said "but Jesus just wouldn't have done that!" I had to point out to her that I'd taken it directly from the New Testament.

How do you deal with criticism?

I have therapy ;-). I mean, constructive criticism is fine of course.
But now the book's done the best thing is to try to ignore the criticism and just move on with the new one.

I was brought up a Catholic and when I read your book, I was aware of myself feeling defensive and thinking, ‘Wait, Jesus didn’t say that!’ I was quite surprised because I’m a very cynical Catholic! Is this your book’s fundamental aim? To challenge the people who have accepted the story of Jesus without question?

I suppose a bit! There are a few things. Firstly, there are things in the Christian story that are either *really weird* or clearly anti-Semitic, like, for example, the Jews at the crucifixion shouting "let his blood be on us and our children!" and this idea that the people would never have asked for Barrabas if the evil priests hadn't stirred them up. I've been thinking about those things for a long time and how silly it is to imagine that there mightn't have been perfectly good reasons for most of the people not to have liked Jesus. So there was that "can we just stop saying nasty things about Pharisees and really interrogate this story?" feeling.

Also, I got interested while researching the novel in the world that's usually just the backdrop to Jesus' story. It's a really fascinating political and military landscape which gets lost because of this overwhelming story. So I wanted to put that in its right place again - and I feel now that the story of Jesus really only makes sense if you understand the politics of the time.

I was struck particularly by the description of the protests against Rome that were happening at the time of Jesus, and the greater historical context which is generally ignored! 

Was it a subject that was discussed at home? Is it true you had the idea to write this book when you were a teenager?

Yes, it's funny how little we tend to look at that period, since it was the explosive meeting between Jewish and Roman culture that really created the modern world. So many of the tensions in Christianity come from turning a Jewish cult into the state religion of Rome (e.g. how did 'the prince of peace' end up inspiring *so many* crusades?).

My dad's a historian and my mum's also very keen on history so I suppose this sort of conversation happened at home quite a bit – not necessarily Jesus, but the general principle of tracing the reasons for the present in the events of the past.

I did get the idea for this novel when I was a teenager! It was when I was studying Hebrew and Latin at the same time - I remember saying to my Hebrew teacher that someone ought to write a novel about the Jewish Jesus, and she said "no no, that would be terrible for the Jews!" Because she thought it would cause anti-Semitism.

However, I've done it anyway ;-). Let's see...

What’s your writing routine like?

I have a word count I have to reach every day: usually 800 words when I'm working on a new book. And I never sit down to write saying "I must write 800 words", only ever "I'll do 100 words and then I'll have a break". I'm very creative in the evenings, but I do try to get my words done earlier in the day so they don't hang over me.

What are you greatest distractions?

TV. Instant messenger. But the truth is, if I know where the book is going then I usually can't wait to get to it. If I'm distracting myself, it probably means there's a problem with the novel I haven't resolved.

Margaret Atwood is now your mentor! I’m very jealous! What is she like?

It's a really wonderful thing - she is so funny and so intimidatingly clever, I'm incredibly inspired by her sharp honesty and wide-ranging mind.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Keep writing :-). Do it because you love it. If you don't love it enough to do it for its own sake, you probably won't get far anyway.


The Liars Gospel is available on Amazon and all good book shops. 

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