Clive was interviewed about his work on the Author Quiz website on 26 October 2013. There were some interesting questions and answers.
Author Quiz interviews Clive Algar…
What is it you love most about writing?
I love the infinite scope for creating new worlds. As a writer of mainly historical fiction (19th and early 20th century) I enjoy placing fictional characters among real historical characters to create events that could have happened. I love the blank page waiting for me to fill it.
Where did the inspiration for your first novel, Journeys to the End of the World, come from?
Journeys is set in three different eras, but takes place largely during, and just after, World War 1. I have had a fascination with the “Great War” since I was a child, as my late father fought on the Western Front, was mentioned in dispatches, was gassed in the trenches and saw things he could not bear to tell me about. As I heard little about the war from him I read a great deal about it and, when the time came to write my first novel, I was drawn irresistibly to some aspect of the “Great War”. The aspect I chose was “shell shock”, but I also related it to its unnamed equivalent a century earlier, and to post-traumatic stress disorder a century later.
If your book Comets were made into a movie and you were asked for input into the sound track, are there any songs that would work especially well for any particular scene?
I’m really glad to be asked this question but I’m not going to answer it exactly as asked. For some reason there was a piece of classical music that kept coming into my head while I was writing Comets. It was something I had heard on the car radio – “Canon in D”, by Pachelbel – which I found deeply moving, so I played it from time to time after that, sometimes when I was writing, and for me it became the theme music for Comets. The music is a lot older than the 1830s setting of the novel, but it is something that my protagonist Isabelle might well have heard on one of the rare occasions when she could have attended an orchestral performance. And the wistful, bitter-sweet melody of “Canon in D” to my mind mirrors the years of Isabelle’s life portrayed in my book.
If you could invite one character from your novels to a dinner party, who would it be and why?
I would like to invite Emma, the main character from Flowers in the Sand. I would make it a small dinner party because I would want to have plenty of opportunity to talk with her – there is so much I want to know about her life after the end of the book. Anyone who has read Flowers in the Sand will know that Emma had a really difficult time in the novel. She longed for children but was unable to have any of her own; her husband died in an accident and she was left to fend for herself in a desolate mining town with war closing in; she had to make extremely difficult moral choices. Eventually she saw a chance for happiness – and that is where I left her at the end of the book! There is a hint, in an epilogue which takes the form of a letter ten years later, but I would love to know what happened during those missing years. I am fond of Emma, I’m sorry I made her life so difficult, and I hope I would feel better about her if she came to dinner and we could talk about it.
How do you see the publishing industry changing during the next few years?
I don’t know a great deal about the publishing industry, but the trend away from printed books towards eBooks is so obvious now that it seems undeniable. I am ambivalent about eBooks – I love the feel of a well-bound book in my hands, and even its smell. And I would rather walk in the mountains with a real book in my rucksack, and sit leaning against a rock reading it, than carry my iPad with me for that purpose. On the other hand, on long-haul flights my iPad would come into its own, with twenty books loaded, taking up hardly any space in my luggage. As an author, eBooks are creating new opportunities for me, so I embrace the future while lovingly running my hands over the spines of the “real” books in my home library.
What are some of your favourite quotes from reviews that you’ve received?
Reviews of my first novel, Journeys, gave me a lot of pleasure, largely because this was the first time anyone had publicly said anything about my writing. Some of the reviewers said things that I wouldn’t have thought of saying, and others said things I had hoped someone would say.
Here are extracts from my five favourite reviews of Journeys – they were mainly written by professional book critics and published in the books pages of newspapers:
“Spell-binding … A riveting read … serious and austere … an honest, authentic novel.” – Phil Murray, The Cape Times.
“A haunting work that traces the patterns of violence, survival and the often guilty-feeling process of healing. The characters … are drawn with a delicate and subtle hand … This lovely book is engrossing and will leave the reader thinking.” – Amanda Yesilbas, Historical Novels Review Online.
“Algar examines the effects of violence on individuals, both victims and perpetrators … [his] purpose is to look at issues of forgiveness and atonement … a thoughtful novel that brings together strands of our social matrix and carries it in a good story.” – Jane Rosenthal, Mail & Guardian.
“Clive Algar writes well … Although technically a historical novel, the book’s themes and preoccupations reach beyond the period piece.” – Anthony Stidolph, The Witness.
“Ambitious and well-researched, containing a wealth of fascinating material … there is much here of real value.” – Michiel Heyns, novelist and award-winning literary critic.
What other book would you regard it the biggest compliment to have your own work compared to, and why?
Given this opportunity, I might as well aim high! My favourite novel is “Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak, so if anyone said my work reminded them of that, I would die happy. “Doctor Zhivago” is a great novel because it captures the spirit of an era so beautifully and so profoundly, while remaining an easy book to read. When I read it I hear great chords of music in my head.
I have similar feelings about “The Leopard” by Giuseppe de Lampedusa, but I don’t want to seem greedy.
I am not seriously suggesting that anyone would compare my work with either of these sublime novels – I’m just indulging in a bit of fantasy!
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Thanks for your comments, Clive, and good luck with your writing.
If you’d like to see the interview on the Author Quiz site, please click this link.