15.05.19 / Contemporary Fiction / Legend Press / Paperback / 288pp / 978-1789550245
About Matt Wilven
Author of ‘The Blackbird Singularity’ (2016)
Matt Wilven was born in Blackpool in 1982. After receiving an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing, he spent the next ten years honing his craft. His part-time jobs in this time included: bingo caller, ice-cream man, fishmonger, paintball operative, camel derby caller, soap seller, copywriter, rollercoaster operator and DJ workshop coordinator. The Blackbird Singularity is his debut novel. He lives and writes in London.
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About Farzaneh And The Moon
When N meets a charismatic outsider called Farzaneh, he realises that something has been missing in his life. They fall for each other and begin an intense and passionate relationship. However, Farzaneh starts to isolate herself, becoming obsessed and embroiled in her mysterious connection with the moon.
N is forced to reappraise everything he knows, searching for meaning and identity while he violently collides with the limits of intimacy and love.
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Q&A with Matt Wilven
Thank you Matt for taking some time to answer a few questions about your latest novel, Farzaneh and the Moon. Could you give us your own personal overview of what readers should expect within the book?
No worries, Stuart. My pleasure. The novel is a coming of age drama with elements of magic realism, set in contemporary London. The emotional narrative centres on a young man’s first experience of love. His girlfriend, Farzaneh, is a dark and complicated individual, exasperating at times, but brilliant too. Jaded by the lack of freedom in the modern world, they use their window of opportunity at university to experiment with hedonism. But it’s not enough for Farzaneh. Old grief is stirring in her, and a connection she once shared with the moon. She wants to drop everything to get it back, and he loves her enough to do whatever she needs to help her get there. So, the two wander through a dark tale of obsession, where love and alienation are taken to their phantasmagorical limits.
Where did your inspiration for Farzaneh and the Moon come from?
I wanted to write something that captured the impact of a first big relationship and also that period when you realise that surviving in the world, let alone succeeding in it, is going to be tough. It’s an intense and formative time, where you’re wrestling with big ideas about who you are and what you can achieve. I suppose part of my inspiration was for my book to find its way into a few of those struggling hands, and the people who remember those times, so that they can reflect on the fact that there is something dark but beautiful about those first major triumphs and losses we experience.
How did the writing experience during Farzaneh and the Moon differ from The Blackbird Singularity?
This novel was first drafted ten years ago. It was set in a different city, in a different decade, it was three times as long and the narrative (now three years) stretched on for over ten years. This is a short way of trying to explain how many lives and edits it has had along the way. The only things that remained the same, in every draft, were a couple of outsiders in love, a young woman who wanted to be buried alive and a quest to avoid joining the modern world. It also always opened with the burial scene. That image kept coming back to my imagination – and that’s why I kept re-writing the book, because I knew there was power in the idea. Hopefully, I got the meld right this time.
The Blackbird Singularity was completed over a much shorter and more intensive period. I set out writing a short story and before I knew it I had three chapters of a novel and I was nowhere near the ending in my head. It took about six months to draft and then another six to eight months to edit. It was a walk in the park by comparison. But ideas never behave in the same way. They all come to life as and when they see fit, and always at their own pace. Every time you sit down to write, you’re as clueless as the first time.
Have you always had a passion for philosophy or did it develop as you wrote this novel?
I was one of those annoyingly earnest teenagers who always wanted to talk about the meaning of life, confused as to why nobody was taking the big questions seriously. Once I realised that philosophy existed, it all felt like essential reading and I didn’t come up for air for years. I wanted to capture some of that hunger for knowledge in this book. My tastes were a bit less classical than the narrator’s but I thought Plato suited him and the story, and I really enjoyed re-reading Plato’s work as part of my research. Right now, I’m still reading lots of non-fiction but not specifically philosophy. My current research is mostly centred on technology and artificial intelligence.
What was the most challenging part of writing about the passionate, intimate and intellectual yet deeply conflicted and irrational relationship that develops over the novel?
[Spoiler] Almost nobody will pick up on it, and they are not specifically meant to, but there is a subtly woven thread throughout part three which implies that the two main characters may have melded into one. It’s not necessarily the case, but Farzaneh has disconnected from her being to the point where a reader cannot prove that she exists – except in the narrator’s head. People ask where she has gone. She doesn’t eat or touch anything. In essence, his character is drawn so that he can only exist in relation to her, and hers gets to the point where she can only exist in relation to him. It’s an impossible impasse that requires an impossible solution.
How do you expect readers to react to an emotionally/intellectually challenging novel like Farzaneh and the Moon?
I imagine it will be quite divisive. Quite rightly, a lot of people expect a certain kind of easy pleasure when they read. I do myself sometimes. It’s good to have characters who amuse you, rather than challenge you, and plots that entertain you, rather than make you think. I just can’t write like that. I get too bored. For me, complicated emotions, ideas and image systems are more fascinating to work with. I’d like to please everybody, that’s why I painstakingly edit my prose until it’s accessible and easy to read, but you can only write what’s in you. I just hope it reaches a few people who absolutely need it to exist. When books have been there for me in that way, it has meant a lot.
The introduction to this novel was incredibly intriguing and sets up the narrative in a superb way. Did you start from that point and work backwards or did that moment develop over the course of you crafting the story?
Thank you for saying that. The burial was actually the seed of the novel. I often find my strongest image first and then spend years trying to figure out what it means and how to get there. I knew that the story was about grief, love and growing up – burying ideals and the past – but also allowing something dark and wild to escape into the night.
Is there a part of the book that you are particularly proud of? Do you have a favourite quote you can share with us?
I always struggle to choose an extract when I have to do a reading because I feel like my style is often about creating a window pane, rather than proving any sort of writing prowess. I’m proud of the emotional swings in the main couple’s relationship – how easily devastated he is by her, how she tries but fails not to need him. Those tonal shifts aren’t always easy to accomplish.
I have no idea what to choose as a quote. I’m just going to flick through… OK, got one. One month, I started every day by writing a poem about the moon in Farzaneh’s voice. I had about fifty in the end. This is from one of the ones that made it into the book:
“We grew up in an age
Where fathers told their daughters
They loved them
To the moon and back
That love is a lot of distance”
Did you always have your eye set on being a writer/author and what sort of books did you grow up reading?
I started writing, as many children do, around ten or eleven years old – to process my private thoughts and feelings. Through my teens, I convinced myself that I was writing “lyrics” and that I was destined to become the next Kurt Cobain. However, when my voice broke it became very clear that I couldn’t sing. The writing continued regardless; lyrics expanding into poems, poems into plays, plays into fictions. I was seventeen when I had my writing epiphany. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or what to apply for at university and, quite randomly, my friend said that I should be a writer. His suggestion hit me like a bolt. That would solve all of my problems, I realised, because I already was one.
In terms of reading, I was a bit of a late bloomer. I was an outdoor child and we did not really have books in our house. I read some bits and bobs and it was definitely a part of my life but, when I was inside, books were nowhere near as important to me as The Karate Kid or Back To The Future. I was a real film junky and even into my twenties I would get obsessed with certain movies and watch them ten or twenty times. The reading habit kicked off in earnest when I was sixteen, when the books at college suddenly got a lot more interesting. I remember reading Pinter and Beckett for my Theatre Studies A-level and feeling extremely excited. There was a whole world of writing that nobody had told me about and it was for people like me! From there, I read voraciously.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the writing?
Staying active definitely helps if you’re a novelist but not for winding down. For me, it’s all about finding the mental balance you need to crack on with the task. Novel writing requires prolonged periods of extended focus, constant flux between microcosmic and macrocosmic thinking, critical but empathic reflection, and the ability to produce consistent quality and tone in your craft. I don’t think you can do all of this by just sitting on your bottom. Most days, your brain and your blood need a kick. I tend to cycle about eight miles a day and play ping pong once or twice a week.
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
I often feel that there’s a strange and uninterruptible destiny that comes into play when people decide which books to read. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are, even if you buy a book and park it on your bedside table, there might just be some sort of resistance in place, something stopping you from reading it. Then, when the right book comes along, however it comes along, it just takes over your life and pours right into you. Effortlessly. It can’t be recommended. You just have to be ready for it. Keep your eyes open – the book you need will find you.
Also, read Nell Zink 🙂
Thank you Matt for spending some time answering my questions about Farzaneh and the Moon, I really appreciate the insights into this deeply intriguing novel. I was absorbed by the changes in tone, atmosphere and message as the narrative unfolded. I found it easy to get lost in the philosophical and existential nature of the prose and the imagery they conjured. This is not my usual novel. I am more guts and glory but I definitely recommend trying out Farzaneh and the Moon if you are looking for something different to challenge your mind. Matt is certainly an interesting writer and his answers to these questions show