Today I have a second stop on a blog tour, this time for Joe Treasure, author of The Book of Air. He has stopped by to tell us what inspired him to write his book.
What inspired the story of The Book of Air?
Inspiration is a mysterious process. You can start with a fragment of an idea so insubstantial that you can’t explain, even to yourself, why it holds your attention. I’m fascinated by the way random things survive destruction and get passed on and acquire meaning. I have a diary that my mother kept for a couple of months when she was 14, living in another country in a time of political upheaval. There’s rioting, mass arrests, guns are fired in the street and she’s caught up in it. Meanwhile she’s fighting with her teachers and helping with the birth of a baby nephew. It reveals only a tiny fraction of her life out of all that I’ll never now discover, but it opens a door on a lost world.
In the far-future section of The Book of Air almost everything that constitutes our world in 2017 has disappeared, including most of the human population. People hold on to the objects from the past. Some of them have practical value, like knives and spades. Some are useless, meaningless even – a microwave oven, a laptop. In Agnes’s village, their most treasured possessions are three books. One of them, the most substantial, is Jane Eyre. Alongside the tough physical work of tending crops and animals, some of the villagers make time to study, specifically to copy passages from Jane Eyre. They have no practical use for literacy. They don’t write letters or shopping lists. They don’t make laws or keep the minutes of meetings. They have no concept of consuming stories for pleasure. They read and write for this purpose only – to keep alive the knowledge of the books. It’s irrational, but it’s also creative. It’s irrational in a very human way.
I hadn’t thought of this until I began writing this piece, but perhaps unconsciously it was the memory of my mother’s diary that prompted me to begin The Book of Air with 15-year-old Agnes writing an account of her life. In Agnes’s mind, this is an almost blasphemous act, to misuse valuable ink and to put herself somehow on a level with Jane Eyre herself, her only model for this kind of writing. It’s a community built on elaborate rules. And in the very first sentence of the story a rule is broken, which will lead to danger and to radical questions.
To understand how Agnes’s village came to exist in this unusual form, I realized I had to tell another story, set just a few years in our future – the story of the contagion that destroys civilization. So I invented Jason, Agnes’s ancestor, who experiences the strange symptoms of the virus, and survives. I resisted writing this half of the book. One of interesting things about writing fiction is that one thing leads to another and you find yourself pushed into uncomfortable territory. The logic of the plot makes demands on you. But what bubbles up out of the unconscious in response to that pressure is unpredictable.
I can see, now the book is complete, that there’s an interest in communities running through it. Agnes’s village is just one kind of community. When she ventures beyond the village, she finds more freedom but also more chaos. Jason’s story involves a number of communities, some benign, some isolated and cultish. People cluster together, or are pushed together by circumstances, and work out ways of living. When Jason escapes from London with his young nephew Simon, he finds squatters in his house, two women who already know how to live without electricity or running water. The women nurse him through his sickness. Meanwhile three other people turn up who have met on the road. They have nothing in common except the need to survive.
As Jason thinks back on what has brought him here, and what has brought the world to this desperate state, he remembers other communities – including the travelling band of Christians with whom he spent part of his childhood, and the various groups that his younger sister Penny, Simon’s mother, got entangled with during her short life.
I think it’s no accident that I’ve written this book at a time when there’s a lot of anxiety floating around, a strong sense of existential threats, political or environmental. How do we cooperate and remain open to each other in the face of such dangers? I didn’t set out knowingly to write about these things, but I think the book is a response to them, even so.
The Book of Air
Retreating from an airborne virus with a uniquely unsettling symptom, property developer Jason escapes London for his country estate, where he is forced to negotiate a new way of living with an assortment of fellow survivors.
Far in the future, an isolated community of descendants continue to farm this same estate. Among their most treasured possessions are a few books, including a copy of Jane Eyre, from which they have constructed their hierarchies, rituals and beliefs. When 15-year-old Agnes begins to record the events of her life, she has no idea what consequences will follow. Locked away for her transgressions, she escapes to the urban ruins and a kind of freedom, but must decide where her future lies.
These two stories interweave, illuminating each other in unexpected ways and offering long vistas of loss, regeneration and wonder.
The Book of Air is a story of survival, the shaping of memory and the enduring impulse to find meaning in a turbulent world.
Purchase of Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Book-Air-Joe-Treasure/dp/1911525093
About Joe Treasure
Joe Treasure currently lives in South West London with his wife Leni Wildflower. As an English teacher in Wales, he ran an innovative drama programme, before following Leni across the pond to Los Angeles, an experience that inspired his critically acclaimed debut novel The Male Gaze (published by Picador). His second novel Besotted (also published by Picador) also met with rave reviews.
Website – http://www.joetreasure.com/
Twitter: – https://twitter.com/joetreas