Hidden in the book

2014-07-16 00:00

WHERE did the idea for the simultaneous plane crashes come from? And are you a nervous or confident flyer?

I’m a nervous flyer! Very nervous. It’s partly because of this that I decided to write about plane crashes in the first place. I wanted to see if looking in-depth into air accidents and researching air travel would help put this irrational fear into perspective. It didn’t. It made it far, far worse.

You use a lot of different voices. I would imagine it was incredibly hard to keep them all under control, and differentiated. How easy was it to move from one to the other? And did you find yourself having favourite characters?

For some reason — and I have absolutely no idea why — I had no problem jumping from voice to voice (multiple personality disorder, maybe — I am a bit odd). That said, these sections needed a firm editorial hand, as (ahem) a couple of South-Africanisms slipped into the United States characters’ points of view. Paul Craddock, the failed British actor, was my favourite character to write. I loved his snarky tone. However, Guardian UK book critic Alison Flood, whose opinion I really value, thought he was the most inauthentic character, so it goes to show you can’t be too complacent about your own work.

I loved the way you slipped important bits of information in almost unnoticed. Was this a deliberate strategy to make the reader feel more involved, as if they are part of the unfolding events rather than merely observers?

Thank you! And yes, it was a deliberate strategy. I tried not to spell everything out. I prefer novels that have a touch of ambiguity about them and space for the readers to make up their own mind (that said, all the answers to questions readers may have about the story line or plot are hidden in the book). I also hope readers will question the narrators’ veracity — are they telling the truth about their experiences? Or are they skewing the facts for their own purposes? And, as their stories are edited by Elspeth Martins, the tabloid journalist who has collated all of the accounts, is she presenting them honestly, or is she letting her own political bias influence how they’re edited/presented?

There is humour in there, particularly with the Bible-belt evangelists and their hypocrisy, but towards the end, the novel gets very dark and more critical. Did you see the humour as important in writing the book?

I’m really happy you picked up on that! Thank you. I tend to deal with difficult situations with humour whenever I can — black humour is my default setting. Quite a lot of humour was stripped out in the final draft, as I can go too far with it, and I have a tendency to be flippant when it’s inappropriate.

The research for the Japanese online geek sections must have been a challenge. How did you go about it?

I spent a long time on 2-chan — which was a very popular Japanese chat site a few years ago — copy and pasting and feeding threads through Google translate so that I could get an idea of the conversations on the site. I also visited Tokyo and hung out with several Japanese otaku [a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests] who were all amazing and generous with their time and input. A lot of the chat speak I initially included had to be done away with in the final draft, as this can be annoying to read in large doses.

Why do you think dystopian fiction, like The Three, is so popular at the moment?

I’m not sure I’d describe The Three as dystopian exactly, as it’s set in a contemporary world that mirrors our own. This would mean that we’re all currently living in a dystopia (which, in some ways, perhaps we are). Perhaps the rise in the popularity of dystopian/apocalyptic fiction is something to do with the ubiquity of the Internet. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, etc. we’re made aware of every horrendous world event instantly and from multiple sources, rather than just through newspapers or the TV news. It can be stressful and overwhelming. Reading and writing about the end of the world might be cathartic!

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