I was in London the other day and made it along to Belgravia Books where Niven Govinden was holding forth to celebrate the paperback edition of his latest novel. We got talking and here is what came out of it. I have not bought Dublinesque yet but thanks to Niven’s recommendation I am at least considering it now. Also seen at Belgravia Books was a very fine-looking book called Holloway that has nothing to do with the area of London I’ve blogged about here before. But back to Niven…
1. Name five of your favourite books in the last five years
I can only think of the books that influenced me most recently. They differ in scope, but all fulfil my need to feel somehow unsettled as a reader.
All That Is – James Salter. Beautiful.
Gone To The Forest – Katie Kitamura.
This Is The Way – Gavin Corbett.
The Infatuations – Javier Marias
Dublinesque – Enrique Vila-Matas
2. Your latest book reminds me a little of Ardashir Vakil’s One Day, a book somewhat overshadowed a few years post-publication by another novel with the same title — an unlikely fate for Black Bread, White Beer. Tell me why titles are important to you.
I only think about titles when I’m coming to the end of the writing. There’s something about being close to the finish line; something clicks, and I feel ready to name the whole. It’s a very natural process, and not one that’s overtly strung out. A shortlist based around a word or phrase. The most important thing is that it should be as truthful as the book.
3. In the novel, at one point the central character Amal mentions the British cricket team is his team, even if they’re losing. How do you feel about being both a British writer yet perhaps also perceived as part of somewhere else?
To be honest, it never crosses my mind – only the actual writing. I think we’re past all the otherness crap these days … and if not, we should be.
4. You worked in the music business once, Niven. Musicians tend to explore nationality less concretely in their work than writers. Why do you think that is?
I disagree. You only have to look at hip hop or grime. I take your point however, that writing encourages greater discourse, not only about points of difference, but all things.
5. From reading Black Bread, White Beer (set in London and Sussex) I formed the impression the author has to be someone who loves London, and probably lives there… any comment?
The book is the work of the imagination, not biography. The country is as great a part of my make-up as the city. There are plenty of places in the world that grip my imagination…
6. Have you ever wanted to live abroad – if so where might you like to live?
I’ve travelled, but never lived abroad. Madrid, Paris, Portland, and Oslo are currently on my fantasy wish list.
7. For luck ask yourself the perfect question – the one I missed!
Sadly for my vanity, there’s no such thing as the perfect question, only imperfect ones, which is better in the long run, in writing, as with everything else. Messiness, imperfections is what life is…
Black Bread, White Beer by Niven Govinden was longlisted for the DSC prize 2013 and is currently among the titles included in Fiction Uncovered 2013. The novel is now out in paperback from the FridayProject/Harper Collins UK, price £7.99.