Author Spotlight – Jeff Noon (WITHIN WITHOUT)
JEFF NOON is an award-winning British novelist, short story writer and playwright. He won the Arthur C Clarke Award for Vurt, the John W Campbell award for Best New Writer, a Tinniswood Award for innovation in radio drama and the Mobil prize for playwriting. He was trained in the visual arts, and was musically active on the punk scene before starting to write plays for the theatre. His previous book, The Body Library, was nominated for the Philip K Dick Award.
Welcome to the Hive, Jeff. Firstly, congratulations on your lovely cover for Within Without! Were you involved much in the design process with Glen Wilkins? What was your reaction when you saw the final cover?
I love that all the Nyquist Mysteries depict different environments. Each book is set in very different city or town, so location is very important. I also love the fact that the covers are mazes, or illusionary places. I’m fascinated by mazes, whether made of hedges, or words! One of the towns Nyquist visits in Within Without is called Escher, so the impossible staircases on the cover make perfect (impossible) sense. I made some comments to the cover along the way, but I’m happy to let designers have free reign.
Okay so let’s start with the basics: dazzle us with an elevator pitch! Why should readers check out your Nyquist Mystery series? And what can we all expect in this fourth instalment?
One floor elevator ride: weird cities, weird crimes. Twelve floor elevator ride: Each mystery is set in a different place, each city or town having a very different fantastical element. The first book A Man Of Shadows takes place in a city called Dayzone, where the lights never go out, and the sky is invisible, hidden behind a vast layer of lamps. The second book, The Body Library, is set in a city obsessed with storytelling. Elements of meta-narrative enter the picture. The third book Creeping Jenny is set in a village where behaviour changes drastically each day, according to that day’s saint. The latest novel Within Without takes place in a city of a million borders. Nyquist is a private eye. Each case he investigates interconnects in some strange way with the city’s obsessive elements. Different cities, different obsessions, different mysteries…
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I’m more of a Call of Cthulhu guy.
This doesn’t surprise us!
I’d be a nerdy librarian who can turn his hand to fisticuffs, when necessary. My chosen weapon would be a grimoire, the Negatanomicon, the text of that dreaded tome, the Necronomicon, written in reverse. It negates all creatures of the Outer Dark.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (For example, in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Intense planner or is your system more organic?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I tend to have quite a lot going on, while I’m writing. Music, a podcast, a film on the TV. Maybe all at the same time! I am keen on blotting out my ego (which will just tell me I’m writing crap), and splitting myself into two or more consciousnesses. That way, the words flow easily, without me worrying about them. So, that’s for first drafts. Second drafts I bring my concentrated mind into focus, no distractions. I never plan. Just start with an image, a question, and see where it leads. I write a chapter, at the same time keeping note of ideas for the next chapter. About three-quarters of the way through the first draft, I will stop, and work out what’s going on in the novel. Then write towards the finish line.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy or sci-fi influences?
I don’t take influence directly for SF or Fantasy, more from people like Lewis Carroll, Jorge Luis Borges, Douglas Hofstadter. The biggest influence on my style is a very obscure spy thriller author called Adam Hall, whose books I devoured when I was young. I didn’t know it at the time, but Adam Hall was teaching me how to write.
Are there any writers or creators whom you’d love to collaborate with?
I am writing a collaborative novel at the moment, so that takes care of that impulse. I would love to work with someone on turning the Nyquist Mysteries into a role-playing game.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. Did you come across any stumbling blocks over the years when writing your series? How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I never really suffer from writer’s block. I have two laws embedded in my temples, one on each side. I made these laws up in my early twenties, and they force me to write. They never go quiet! One law forces me to be as creative as I can, to express myself in an individualised manner; while the other law forces me to write purely for the reader’s delight. So the two laws contradict each other. And this is happening every single second. Because of this, they act as a perpetual motion machine, always rolling downhill. My job as a writer is to control the output of these two laws.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Play a game. I like deck-building games. I have thousands of cards for the Legendary Marvel game, that’s my go-to, having the X-Men tackle Magneto, and so on.
Millennium Blades is a great deck-builder!
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
Cthulhu, because everyone else would just run away. After the battle, I would then have to escape his clutches myself: that’s the tricky part.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Going back to spy writer Adam Hall, his 1973 novel The Tango Briefing is the bee’s very underappreciated knees. He has that rare knack of writing exciting action narratives while at the same time pushing language to its very limits, in his endeavour to model the ongoing thoughts and feelings of his hero, Quiller.
Finally, can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress? Will there be more books in the Nyquist Mystery series? Or do you have any new upcoming projects?
Nyquist is dependent upon me coming up with a new type of city for him to visit. I never want him to revisit a city, so it must always be a new environment, a new obsession. The ideas creep up on me when I’m not looking, so it’s just a question of waiting. Of all my characters, Nyquist is the one I feel closest to, and I love the way he leads me into very strange places. The collaborative project I’m working on is more of a giant fantasy novel set in a fictional city. It’s a bit of a new venture for me, but of course the same themes keep popping up; there’s no escaping who you are, and who you want to be, in life, as in fiction.
Thanks so much for joining us today Jeff!
WITHIN WITHOUT is expected on 11th May 2021, and is currently available to pre-order from the following places: