Counter Culture
September 10, 2019 posted by Unity Wellington

Interview | Elizabeth Knox

Interview | Elizabeth Knox

Before our launch for The Absolute Book (VUP) 6-7:30pm Thursday 12th September 2019, Elizabeth Knox wrote to us about writing, reading, cooking, elderly cats, Ursula le Guin and Blackburn fever. Read on and see you at the launch.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Taryn Cornick believes that the past is behind her – her sister’s death by violence, and her own ill-conceived revenge. She has chosen to live a life more professional than personal. She has written a book about the things that threaten libraries – insects, damp, light, fire, carelessness and uncaring. The book is a success, but not all of the attention it brings her is good.

There are questions about a fire in the library at Princes Gate, her grandparents’ house, and about an ancient scroll box known as the Firestarter. A policeman, Jacob Berger, has questions about a cold case. There are threatening phone calls. And a shadowy young man named Shift appears, bringing his shadows with him. Taryn, Jacob, Shift – three people are driven towards a reckoning felt in more than one world.

The Absolute Book is an epic fantasy, intimate in tone. A book where hidden treasures are recovered; where wicked things people think they’ve shaken from their trails find their scent again. A book about beautiful societies founded on theft and treachery, and one in which dead sisters are a living force. It is a book of journeys and returns, set in London, Norfolk, and the Wye Valley; in Auckland, New Zealand; in the Island of Apples and Summer Road of the Sidhe; at Hell’s Gate; in the Tacit with its tombs; and in the hospitals and train stations of Purgatory.

Cover: Catherine Nelson, Lost (2014).

‘An angelic book, an apocalyptic book, an astounding book.’ —Francis Spufford

‘The master is present. To read Knox on such a huge canvas – to be immersed in her worlds, wrapped in her intelligence and craft so completely – is an experience not be missed. Lessing, Le Guin, Knox – books where the best hearts meet the best minds meet the best imaginations are few and far between. The Absolute Book is a triumph of fantasy grounded in the reality and challenges of the moment we live in.’ —Pip Adam

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Knox is the author of thirteen novels, three novellas, and a collection of essays. The Vintner’s Luck, won the Deutz Medal for Fiction in the 1999 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and the Tasmania Pacific Region Prize, and is published in thirteen languages. Dreamhunter, won the 2006 Esther Glen Medal. Dreamhunter’s sequel Dreamquake, 2007, was a Michael L Printz Honor book for 2008 and, in the same year, was named an ALA, a CCBC, Booklist, and New York Library best book. A collection of essays, The Love School won the biography and memoir section of the New Zealand Post book awards in 2009. Mortal Fire won a NZ Post Children’s book award and was a finalist in the LA Times Book Awards. Elizabeth’s last book is horror/science fiction, Wake. Elizabeth is an Arts Foundation Laureate and was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002. She lives in Wellington with her husband, Fergus Barrowman, and her son, Jack.


WHY DO YOU WRITE?

I write for the same reason I read, watch films and TV – to be removed from myself and be with other people, unlikely strangers. This spell of removal doesn’t work with writing memoir and personal essays, where I’m stuck with the sulking, recalcitrant, sly, bush-whacking, unrestful me.

WHERE AND HOW DO YOU WRITE?

At the moment I’m often writing around the skinny, greasy-furred body of the very elderly cat, who wants to sit and sit and sit, and then sit some more. I write with a pencil in A5 notebooks.

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?

I’m currently reading The Leper’s Companions by Julia Blackburn. She’s simultaneously straight-up and sidelong. A great writer who I’ll be banging on about for at least the next five years. Fergus Barrowman and I are reading our way through her entire oeuvre. Fergus discovered her in a review in the Financial Times by Melissa Harrison whose All Among the Barley we had just read.

WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?

Jane Austen, for everything really, but mostly for how she conveys the enormous power of restrained feelings, and how well she understands the difference between restraint and repression. She doesn’t love everyone, but she has time for everyone, even her cads and fools.

Ursula Le Guin, for the stratospheric heights of her invention, her deep understanding of society, people and peoples, and her love of home, the hearth, garden, goats, long-time love. Homesickness is her great subject – because she loves home.

Dickens for his plots, his theatre, atmosphere, and the play of character. I’d love to reread the novels more often, and would be able to if he were not so indelible.

WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?

Julia Blackburn’s The Leper’s Companions, and her wonderful, wonderful Thin Paths; Rebecca Priestley’s Fifteen Million Years in Antarctica; Laura Southgate’s The Boyfriend. And, on my kindle, Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road, and Hugo award winner Ann Leckie’s first fantasy novel, The Raven Tower.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?

 The Godfather

 WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?

Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I love a good recovery narrative, and this is the greatest ever written. It is a rationally optimistic book, and simply perfect.

WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?

I have an enduring affection for Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in Patrick O’Brian’s twenty-two book series; for Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe; and Dorothy Dunnett’s Philippa Somerville of the Lymond Chronicles. And Jack Reacher, that massive cypher, even to himself. So I guess I fall for characters I can get to know over a number of books. I feel the same affection for various TV characters, for the same reason—long exposure. Though with TV it doesn’t work nearly as often as you’d think.

Also I love villains, or ‘villains’: Casaubon in Middlemarch, Milady de Winter, Long John Silver, Graham Mallett of the Lymond Chronicles, Mr Tulkinghorn in Bleak House, and that extraordinary narcissist and bully, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?

I haven’t read Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad, and must.

WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?

Ursula Le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones and Margaret Mahy. They’d have so much to say to one another!

WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?

I would cook them an array of dishes from my Madhur Jaffrey books. Some with vegetables from my summer garden. And there would be plenty of wine for the ‘existential angst’, as Margaret would say.

HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?

I am not in charge of the bookshelves. Sometimes I dream that there’s a secret passage leading from my house to a cave, or a cavernous school gym building, very like the one at my high school, Tawa College. I wish I could find one of those dream annexes and put a whole lot of books there.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?

‘Not fondness for my son, nor any claim

Of reverence for my father, nor love

I owed Penelope, to please her, could overcome

My longing for experience of the world

Of human vices and virtue.

 

But I sailed out on the deep open seas, accompanied

By that small company that still had not

Deserted me, in a single ship. One coast I saw, and then another…’

 

Dante, Inferno, Canto XXIV

 

author photo: Ebony Lamb

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