60 Seconds with China Miéville

China MiévilleChina Miéville lives and works in London. He is three-time winner of the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award (Perdido Street Station, Iron Council and The City & The City) and has also won the British Fantasy Award twice (Perdido Street Station and The Scar). The City & The City, an existential thriller, was published in 2009 to dazzling critical acclaim and drew comparison with the works of Kafka and Orwell (The Times) and Phillip K. Dick (The Guardian). The City & The City recently won the British Science Fiction Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award and was also shortlisted for the Nebula and Hugo prizes.

Which childhood book affected you most?

No idea, really, as we never know what’s affected us or how. But starting very young, Meal One, by Ivor Cutler, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, would be a serious contender.

Where do you write?

In cafes, sometimes. In my study, sometimes. Occasionally in other places. It really depends what stage I’m at, and on what, as to how strong and context-ignoring the drive is.

Who was the biggest influence on your writing life?

I think this is impossible to answer, as there are simply too many variables to consider. Although my mother would probably be a good answer.

Do you think contemporary video games contain the most exciting
narratives?

More exciting than books or films? I doubt it. A lot of video games have rubbish narratives. So do a lot of books and films, of course, but I think setting up a hierarchy is asking for trouble. That said, some video games are trying to do interesting things with stories and storylines, and more power to them. I think video games are likely to be no better and no worse than any other mass medium. Given the sums of money involved in their creation, they’re likely to have less wriggle-room than books and about as much as movies, to play games with convention. So, not none, but the constraints are definitely there.

Which book should be on the National Curriculum?

The grotesque political engineering and hoop-jumping required in the context of the National Curriculum, the way it’s been managed, are such that I would rather claw my own face off than see it as a desirable paradigm to experience books. (That’s not an attack on teachers, btw. Very much the opposite.)  What book should everyone be encouraged to read? Jane Eyre. (Among many others.)

Out of all the characters you’ve created, do you have a favourite?
If so, why?

Perhaps, by a tiny margin (because I like very many of them), Deeba in Un Lun Dun. Because I like how disrespectful she is of prophecy.

Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t?

Many, many, many. (I’m looking at you, Wuthering Heights. And Tess of the D’Urbervilles. And Disgrace. And many others.)

What would you do if you weren’t a writer?

Probably be an academic.

Which book or writer deserves to be better known?

Jane Gaskell. Dambudzo Marechera. Michael Cisco. Barbara Comyns. Many others.

E-books – nemesis or genesis?

I’m tempted to be a smartarse and respond, ‘Yes’, but will refrain. There are positives and negatives, I think, but I also think that without question the pros outweigh the cons, and that this is a revolutionary moment, so I err strongly towards the second category.

How much crossover do you see between genres?

In some places, much. But then genres have never been unfuzzy sets. It’s nice to see some elisions and slip-sliding right now. Though equally, some works of outstanding genius are produced with absolute fidelity to a certain set of genre protocols, so crossover in and of itself is neutral. It’s how you crossover and why, that needs to be judged. Or how and why you don’t.

What are you working on at the moment?

A book. (I know that’s really irritating, sorry – I just am superstitious about talking about work in progress.)

Which HP Lovecraft story do you consider his best?

By no means an original answer, but I consider The Call of Cthulhu to be the keystone text in his oeuvre, to contain the maleficent politics, the outstanding vision, the fractured narrative, the revolutionary monstrosities and the sheer strangeness of his work in a most heightened form. So if one’s only going to read one, that’s the one I’d read.

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