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Feb 12, 2006


The Happy Booker

Yes, please ask Rupert what he finally did with the "caravan" (trailer) after writing "Divided Kingdom." Also, is his new writing space a bit more comfortable? --Wendi

Dan Wickett

Rupert, your work to date seems to be quite varied - no repetition of topics or styles from novel to novel. Do you do this to challenge yourself? To perhaps broaden your audience?

Do you find yourself bored reading multiple works by an author when they focus on a similar theme or topic over their career?

Thanks, Dan


Where did the whole idea come from? It's a pretty wild concept, Britain being split into the 4 quarters. How did you come up with it?

And what's your writing experience like? It's not like you can do that much research. How long did it take you to write Divided Kingdom?


I'm interested in whether there were any touchstone novels that influenced Divided Kingdom -- in terms of concept, theme, etc.

Also, did you hope this book might find some readers in genreland as well?

Rupert Thomson

Happy Booker - hello.
I sold the caravan to the mother of a 13 year old boy. His name was Henry Oakes. He'd always wanted a caravan.
I miss the way it swayed slightly when the wind blew hard.
I've had two offices since then, both in Barcelona. The first had no windows, which was appropriate in a way, since I was writing a book set in a room that had no windows.
Bad air quality, though. I kept falling asleep,
Now I have an office underneath a chapel (this is all sounding impossibly exotic, but it's true).
The house belongs to an order of nuns. On Sundays I hear them singing.

Rupert Thomson

Hello Gwenda & thanks for your question.
It's more complicated than it sounds.
When I start a book, I'm not aware of writing in any particular genre. When I started DK, for instance, I didn't think 'dystopian novel'(I still don't actually).
So no, there weren't any influences - not in that sense.
After a while, I began to realise that people would say '1984' & 'Brave New World' and I thought they might say 'Z' too, which is a Russian futuristic novel, written before BNW (worth checking out, by the way - a wonderful description of walking on grass for the first time). At the same time, none of that really made sense to me. DK isn't a futuristic book. I'm not making predictions. I'm simply unveiling an alternative present.
I do, however, have touchstone novels. By which I mean, novels that inspire me while I'm writing. I tend to keep them close by. I open one and read a few sentences from the middle & then close it again. It's a way of keeping me up to scratch. Stopping me getting complacent.
So what are my touchstone books?
Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
Voyage in the Dark - Jean Rhys
As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
The Violent Bear It Away - Flannery O'Connor
Honeymoon - Patrick Modiano
Coming Through Slaughter - Michael Ondaatje
Pages From Cold Point - Paul Bowles (a short story)
Those are the ones that are occurring to me now. I might think of some more later.

Rupert Thomson

Dan Wickett, hello.
If I'm famous at all, it seems to be for producing a different book each time. At least, that's what critics have always said. The curious thing is, I've now written 8 books (I'm about to deliver number 8), and I'm beginning to see what they have in common. Things are starting to recur. I'd rather not know. I tend not to look back. I think if you're a writer, it's about a life's work. You're working towards something, trying to capture something - and failing. So you try again. And fail better (as Samuel Beckett would say).
As for challenging myself, I don't do that self-consciously. It seems to happen naturally. There's always a point in a new book where I think 'This is impossible. This is too big for me. I can't control it. Why on earth did I take it on?' That moment used to worry me. Now I think it's a sign that I've undertaken something which is worth doing. You should have the sense that what you've taken on might defeat you. There's excitement in that.

Rupert Thomson

Gwenda, I forgot to answer the question about genreland. I wasn't TRYING to find new readers in genreland, but when I'd finished the book & I ooked at it, I thought, 'Anybody ought to be able to read this.' By anybody, I meant people who were into fantasy and science fiction, as well as the average reader of literary fiction.

Rupert Thomson

Megan, yes, it's a wild concept, but it came to me slowly, a piece at a time. At first I thought I was going to write a book about a place where people were always happy. Then it began to spread. And it's always strange encounters & coincidences which help this 'spreading'. For instance, I went to a party in London & a Professor of Medieval History started talking about the humours, how there are seven in China and four in Europe and so on. I've always liked the part accident plays in the writing of fiction. I think it was Joseph Conrad who said, 'Chance always provides me with what I need'. I have many examples of that.
Interesting that you say I couldn't have done much research. I did a lot. Two kinds. 1) When I realised I was writing about a benevolent dictatorship in the Red Quarter, for instance, I starting reading books about Lee Kwan Yu, who ran Singapore in the 60's and 70's. The books listed at the back of the novel will give you some idea of the reading I did. 2) I wrote all kinds of scenes in all kinds of imaginary British landscapes, but then, because I wanted the novel to feel real - in a geographical sense, at least - I had to go out and find those landscapes. Between 2001 and 2003 I did an awful lot of driving. I found places I never knew existed. I found the places I'd described, even though I hadn't known they were there.
The book took about 4 years to write, but it was interrupted by birth, death, grief, madness, car crashes etc etc. It's the most interrupted book I've ever written. It stil amazes me that I actually got it done.

Rupert Thomson

Erin, that's a really good question & I could go on for ages about it. To takes your points one by one: you mention revolutionary action, and yes, I agree, the book does seem to be gearing itself up for something like that. He has all the knowledge - but what has it cost him? The revolutionary action is there - at least, as a possibility - in the sense that he imagines having a baby with Odell and that that baby would be a combination of sanguine and phlegmatic - the first of its kind. The very act of having a child becomes anarchic - or, as you say, revolutionary...But the question remains, what do we make of Thomas at the end? Is he wise? Is he capable of acting on his knowledge? Is he in control, in other words? Or is he mad?
It's very hard to explain how I arrived at the ending. I write many, many drafts of a book, and by the end I can't really remember what was there when I first started out. I lived with that particular ending for quite a long time, though. I liked it. Originally, all the sections of the book were colour-coded - when he went in the Yellow Quarter, that section would be called YELLOW - and for a long time the last section of the book - just one a a half pages - was called PURPLE i.e. the mixture of red and blue/sanguine and phlegmatic. In the end, though, that seemed too schematic - but the feeling of an explosive child is still there, I hope - the idea that a person could be created who would blow the whole regime to smithereens.

Rupert Thomson

Gwenda, A couple of books I forgot to mention:
The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
The Clown - Heinrich Boll
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami


Don't know if it's too late to throw out a question, but I had one. Did you ever doubt the conceit of the book? I enjoyed the novel, but for me the hardest notion to accept was that a sitting government would willingly divide itself or divest itself of power. Perhaps it's occurred somewhere so I apologize if that seems a petty complaint, but the novel is otherwise so fine and smart about human behavior it just struck me as being slightly out of sync. I'm quite willing to believe I misread something, but I wondered if that was something you thought about or struggled with.
That said, the novel has stayed with me in the months since I read it in ways that others haven't. I remember reading and rereading and then reading aloud a line you wrote in the early part of the book about the reflection off a tuba (?) in a former ballroom. My clunky phrasing aside (which is a bit like trying to sing your favorite tune to the person who wrote the song), it was one of many lovely passages in the book. Also, the nightclub sections were so strange and haunting, as well as the section in the old hospital. So much good stuff there; it still hangs on like a fog.
Anyway, thought I'd ask.


If you're still answering questions - on page 281 of the American Knopf edition (Chapter 7, paragraph begining "I dried myself on my undershirt") - the narrator takes an inventory of his possessions and names "the book of dreams" as one of them. Was this something that was edited out of the book, or did I somehow manage to miss him acquiring this?



e and Mike: I've forwarded your questions onto Rupert. I don't know if he'll get a chance to answer them, because he's trying to square away the new novel. But if he responds, I'll offer his answers in another post.

Thanks for all the questions everybody! And thanks again Rupert for taking the time to come in here and answer them.

Sim Perveen

I think Divided Kingdom is a fantastic book to read. I am doing my 3rd year at university and have decided to analyse this book for my degree. I was hoping you could give me some ideas on the aspect of identity. I want to talk about how identity is hybridised and eclectic in divided kingdom.



I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well. But it was interesting!

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in creating a contemporary setting. I think the difference is that I'm making greater assumptions as to agreement on a shared reality with the reader,

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