The lovely Janina Matthewson, author of Of Things Gone Astray, agreed to answer some questions from BookieMonster.
I don’t really need to say this but congratulations on how amazing Of Things Gone Astray is! It’s such an original book. What was the initial idea or impetus behind connecting all these characters with a “thing which/that has gone astray”?
Thank you! Most of the characters started with one image in my mind – a boy standing in front of the ruin of his house, a girl growing into the floor, and they seemed to fit together. But a couple of them were more deliberate – I made a list of clichés around loss and tried to build characters from them. Some of them did not work at all, but some did.
Jake, one of the characters, has been deeply affected by an earthquake. It’s never really definitively stated it was the Christchurch earthquake but it’s certainly the angle I took as a reader. How did the earthquakes influence the book?
I didn’t want to specify the earthquake, mainly because that instantly puts a date on everything that happens, and I didn’t want time to be a big feature. But of course it was on my mind, and as well as being bound up in what happens to Jake and his dad specifically, it had a huge influence. It’s one of my biggest personal losses; my city, as I knew it, and how I have ben dealing with that, and how I have seen others deal with it, was probably the unconscious impetus behind the whole book.
Did you have a favourite character out of all of them?
Marcus. Definitely. I don’t know why, I just love him.
I’ve been calling you a New Zealand writer but obviously you currently live in London, and Of Things Gone Astray is set in London. Do you see yourself as a New Zealand writer or is it more complicated than that?
It’s definitely more complicated than that. I don’t make a particular effort to write about New Zealand – I just write stories, and sometimes something about them is related to it. But so far I haven’t written anything set there fully.
Your Twitter bio says you hate pictures of animals. Really?
I really do. I quite like animals in real life, but I just don’t understand the mania around pictures of them. Naturally I get quite a few cat cards on my birthday because of how much I hate them.
I’m sorry! No actually, I’m not – I think they’re weird.
What are you reading at the moment? Any book recommendations for the people?
I have a bunch of things on the go – I just got After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry, so I’m about to start that. I’m also finally getting around to reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and I have a book each of David Sedaris and David Foster Wallace essays that I dip in and out of. I also love Andrew Kaufman – especially All My Friends Are Superheroes – and Susannah Clarke, Margaret Atwood, obviously, and John Irving.
I think I thought Of Things Gone Astray was your debut novel but you’ve previously released a book called The Understanding of Women. Was that a novel? Sorry!
It was a very, very small novella, or novelette, depending on personal definitions of those terms. It’s about a guy called James who’s always been able to understand other people perfectly, with the exception of his ex-girlfriend. A year after they break up he decides that he needs to find her, so its about his search for her, and what that reveals about him.
What’s next in your world?
I have three big things I’m working on, one of which is a book. It’s a bit darker and stranger than this one, so I’m a bit intimidated by it, but it’ll get there!
Thanks heaps for the wonderful reading and for answering my questions!
Thanks Janina for answering my questions, I’m off to find a copy of The Understanding of Women.