Author Interview: ‘Gaia and Luna’ by Mark Newton

About the Book:

“Over the epochs she had thought she had seen everything. But nothing, not even those early days when she had to watch over her sister negotiate the furious eons of her fiery youth, compared to what she was now observing.”

Bang! And the universe is born.

And in a thoroughly nondescript part of the cosmos, eight wanderers, including Gaia and her diminutive satellite sister Luna, are placed by the great creator.

Then one day, Gaia announces that something has happened to her, something that she has called ‘Life’, and the two wanderers begin to study and curate and nurture this strange new phenomenon.

What wonders they witness, and what strange new concepts they discover as the Life evolves and diversifies at a breakneck pace.

Latterly, they observe the rise of a curious species of ape, the first emanation of Life to attain sentience and self-awareness. And as they follow and chart the rise of this ape to domination of the entire world, they become increasingly concerned about the behaviour of this ‘wise’ species, what it is doing to Gaia, and what might happen to them all as a result.

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Author Interview:

1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

I am a UK citizen, but have not lived there since 2004. Instead, I have pursued a rather itinerant career as a research scientist for ca. 30 years who has worked in the US, the UK, France, and latterly Switzerland.

However, quite why I have started writing, as this is a new phenomenon in my life, I cannot say precisely. A few years ago I did make a start on a novel, and somewhere on my computer 70,000 or so words of another story exist; one which I still think has some merit to it, and may go back to one day. But something happened in mid-2018, and I decided to sit down and try to complete something, starting with a couple of short stories. Shortly after that, in Jan 2019, and for reasons that I still cannot explain, I started writing poetry on my phone (I still do). Then sometime between end of Jan  and the beginning of April 2019, I started to write what would become my first novel, on the train from Didcot to Reading having returned my son to his mum!

The source of the novel, and a fair amount of my poems, lies in what I can only describe as an unspeakable rage that appeared in me at that time (and by degrees is still with me) as to precisely how stupid we are as a species, and how we are likely heading toward a monumental disaster. We are, to paraphrase Luna, undeniably clever… but there seems to be precious little evidence of the sagacity (as a collective) that we have claimed as a species.

In this sense, I did not decide to write … it became an imperative, of the sort that Rilke describes in “Letters to a Young poet.” 

2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

Time? Not specifically. Save for in the sense of when the opportunity presents itself and I feel like doing it. Same goes for reading (see below). The place does, however, seem to be more important, and that often specifies the time.

Most of Gaia and Luna, once I had gotten started on my phone, was written either: at home; on the terrace of the beer shop, next door to where I live; on the SBB (the Swiss railways), during trips to a European Lab in France, where I used to work; or in my mother’s kitchen, during visits home. Other than that, as by and large I have stopped writing at home for the moment, the only things I do at home are research and trying to edit whatever has emanated elsewhere. Poems I still write exclusively on my phone in the same sorts of places, and often during my commute back and forth from work.

3: Where do your ideas come from?

A very good question! One part of the answer, which is valid in the current case, I have already given above: anger.

That said, how to channel that into something creative is another issue. And again, somewhere in early 2019 it dawned upon me that the moon has always been there, and therefore has “seen” everything. From that I decided I could use her as a quasi-objective (quasi, as to my mind absolute objectivity does not exist) observer, recorder, and commentator upon, what has been going on her sister. And if I was to do that, then why not start with be very beginning of the universe and think about what sort of little collective our solar system might be. Once these things were in place, it was then a question of how to render a few aspects of astronomy and physics (which I hope I got right, as I am not a physicist), and then the evolution of life (an interest of mine in my younger days), along with elements of the last few thousand years history, into something correct, yet accessible, and maybe even amusing in parts.

I probably still haven’t answered the “where” bit of your question. My brain would be the concise and factual answer, but the “how” and the “why” I cannot help you with as I am sure I do not know myself!

4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

No, not really. Once the general idea had appeared I just start writing. That said, what I have, or what periodically emerges from my brain, I carry around in my head until it is required to be written down. The process is iterative, as precious little seems to come out that does not require some form of subsequent reconsideration, editing, or binning completely. But in general, I do not prepare preparatory notes or suchlike. Instead, I do just spend a lot of time thinking (which to the untrained eye looks remarkably like loafing about), and turning stuff over in my head before I do anything. One thing I have learned is that ideas have a nasty tendency evolve and grow in all sorts of odd and unexpected ways. That said one must start with something, and getting the general foundations of that something into place, to create a broad framework to work within, insofar as the idea lets you, is probably what I have done here.

5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

Well, this is my first published novel, and according to my editor, and a few of the people who have left reviews online, it does not belong to any known genre of books and therefore cannot be easily categorised. Whether this is a good thing or not I cannot say, but I do take this as a compliment.

6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

Another interesting question! Gaia and Luna I would not consider filmable, save for in the sense of animation, though it could lend itself to verbal rendition on, for instance, the radio. As such, we are talking about voices rather than anything else. In that respect, the novel does bring with it a number of possibilities, which I shall have to admit I have found myself thinking about from time to time. 

Personally I like the idea that one starts with the physical separation between Gaia and Luna, and then the relative distances between the various actors in the story. One would then relate the smallest distance (between Gaia and Luna) to something terrestrial, and from that work out where on the planet the rest of the characters would have to come from. You would then base their vocal characteristics on this geographical separation. There are limits, of course, as the Earth is a finite size and the relative distances involved occur over a few orders of magnitude… and I have yet to sit down and do the numbers to find out how this might restrict the idea! But, such an approach could relate both our own diversity as human beings to the considerable diversity that exists within solar system; an idea that I find quite appealing given the nature of the book.

I am afraid that this does not give you a listing of well know actors and suchlike, and I can but apologise for that. What actually intrigues me more is what sort of soundtrack could one think of? And in that respect I can actually specify someone: I would love to know what Evelyn Glennie, possibly assisted by a choir, might do with such a concept.

7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

Yes, I do read, though I cannot say whether I read a lot or not. Curiously, I do not often read (or write, anymore) when at home. Do not know why. The writers I have liked, read considerably, and who have had a significant affect upon me at one time or another, I might list as being (in no particular order): 

(Writers to whom English is native) Stephen King and Ray Bradbury (both a long, long time ago); Jonathan Swift; J. G. Ballard; George Orwell; Aldous Huxley, Will Self; Martin Amis, Richard Dawkins and, more latterly, Robert Tressell (only one book but a damned fine one), Kurt Vonnegut, and Sylvia Plath.

(Writers read in translation): Aristophanes, Voltaire, Nikolai Gogol, Mikhail Bulgakov, Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy (again, both some time ago), along with Lermontov (even though he only produced one novel, but as with Tressell, a very interesting one indeed), Andrey Kurkov, Albert Camus, and Ranier-Maria Rilke.

(French writers read in French): The Marquis De Sade, Emile Zola, Guy De Maupassant, Albert Camus, Francoise Sagan, George Bataille, Amelie Nothomb, Charles Baudelaire.

The above by the way covers likely over 40 years of reading!

8: What book/s are you reading at present?

I have just finished Emile Zola’s “Nana”. I made promise to Mr Zola a while back to read all of his Rougon-McQuart series in its original language, and I am about halfway! What to read next I have yet to decide. In front of me I have the following: “Pot Bouille,” the next in Zola’s series; Francoise Sagan’s, “Les quatre coins du Coeur”; Amelie Nothomb’s “Soif”; “The charmed wife” by Olga Grushin; a collection of the poetry of Coleridge; Stefan Schweig’s “Chess”; and, “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden………….. Like I said, I do not know yet which one I shall read next, but these will keep me going for a bit I figure.

9: What is your favourite book and why?

Another question that is very interesting, but almost impossible to answer. There are many books, often for very different reasons, which have made me think or left a significant an impression on me. To reduce this to the simple notion of “favourite” without further parameterisation would not seem to me to be quite right.

10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

This one seems a bit premature, given that I have only really started writing very recently, have only produced one complete work along with a whole load of poetry (?) that I know not what to do with… and still have a day job!

However, the one thing I would strongly advise anyone is, once they have something, go find a good editor. In this respect serendipity has smiled upon me greatly. In David Haviland, I have found an editor who has been excellent, and was willing to take a bit of a chance on an odd idea from some unknown bloke which appeared one day out of the aether as a precis. More than that David, at various stages of the review/editing process, has really had a very significant impact on what has finally appeared. He consistently made me think about things I had not thought of, and made me reflect (and then rewrite) a lot in respect of how to best to say what I wanted to say. This has been a priceless contribution from my point of view.

The other thing I should recommend is, as far as you can, run things passed anyone you can convince to read whatever you have, and give you feedback regarding what they thought of it… and do not be afraid of doing so. It has been a real eye-opener to start asking friends and colleagues to read something, especially some of the poetry. Some will, some won’t, and some say they will and then don’t! But those that do I have found are uniformly honest and often very insightful; and to all of them I am extremely grateful.

11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?

I do not exist on general social media; the only accounts I keep in this respect are ones related to my professional life. As such, and aside from maybe appearing in other people’s social messaging and what not, I do not really exist in that world.

Somewhat anachronistic I know, but for the moment I intend to keep it like that.

Other than that, I can only say that if anyone is interested in what I have produced, then one can find it at Goodreads, NetGalley, Loudhailer Books, on Amazon, and the web sites of a variety of booksellers. And in all those please one can also see whatever other people might have made of it, and decide for themselves whether or not it may have any interest to them.

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