You wake up to find your wife gone, the power off, the phone dead, the streets empty and not a soul to be seen. What do you do?
To Adam Walker this is no idle question. For he awakes one morning to find the city of Dubai inexplicably deserted and himself, just as inexplicably, singled out and left behind. And my debut novel, Something Kind Of Strange, follows Adam’s increasingly desperate endeavours to make sense of what has happened and to seek rescue from whatever that might be.
We’ve probably all, at one time or another, had that eerie experience of being in a public place when nobody else is around. And I was living in Dubai, looking out at one of its busiest roads, when maybe some such memory was vaguely playing in my head and I thought: wouldn’t it be weird if there was no traffic and no people and if I could just walk out into the middle of that road with nothing but empty skyscrapers on either side towering over me?
Then I began trying to imagine what could possibly account for the city being so strangely deserted, but also, and what was really fun, I imagined how I (or my main character) would react – day by day, and psychologically as well as physically – to that predicament. I knew then that what I had was a twenty-first century, urban take on the classic Robinson Crusoe story and that it could form the basis of a novel.
However, I didn’t start writing it for maybe a year. At that time, I was living in Thailand. But I could only get so far with it and then put it aside. It was only when I returned to England about another year later that I made it my sole focus and was able to get it written. It did, however, take me about eighteen months and about a dozen drafts to complete.
Now although the events in the book take place in and around Dubai, I think that in some ways it actually helped no longer living there and having a little distance – geographically and time-wise – between me and my main character Adam’s adopted home. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t have written it had I not lived there. And when I was deep among my drafts in England, I was still YouTubing and Google Mapping and Wikipedia-ing all sorts of things about it. But that little bit of distance I think gave me the confidence to take a few liberties and not to be a slave to the actual, physical reality. So while I think that the book succeeds in conveying a very strong sense of place – and I really want the reader to feel like they are in Dubai – I think it does so with a lightness of touch and a certain playfulness. It is, after all, a novel and not a reference book.
The other thing that that little bit of distance helped with was in thinking about the relationship between memory and the underlying thing that is remembered, perception and reality, the objective and the subjective. And I think that became more and more important as writing the book progressed. In particular, I became more and more interested in how to weave the story in and out of Adam’s thoughts, how to make that as seamless as possible, how – in some instances – to make it maybe deliberately ambiguous as to whether something was real or imagined.
I also wanted the narrative structure to reflect Adam’s psychological state and the way memory works. So there are definitely parts of the story that are more fractured and seemingly random than others.
Having said that, I don’t think it’s a particularly difficult or overly experimental book. My focus from the beginning was for it to have a strong story, a strong narrative drive, and for any stylistic elements to flow naturally from, and serve, the story. It was very important to me to keep the reader onside and not to lose them. If I was going to create any ambiguity or confusion or difficulty, it had to done in a context where the reader would go with it and trust that it was for the benefit of the story.
In fact, while writing, especially the early drafts, I deliberately avoided reading anything too ‘literary’ as I wanted to avoid being influenced by anyone else’s style. So during that time I tended to read mostly genre fiction – spy and detective novels – thinking that if they did influence me at all it would be in ensuring that there was a strong storyline at the centre of the book. And if I’m totally honest, one of the deep, deep background influences was probably folktales and nursery rhymes – magical, surreal, imaginative and all about the story, stories that typically resonate with something primitive within us.
Anyway, having succeeded in writing a book, the next big challenge of course is to get it published. In that regard, I had little traction trying the traditional route, so went the self-publishing route with Amazon. That, however, is very far from being the end of the story as the next big challenge is for you, yourself, the self-published author, to market your book and develop a readership. A far from quick, easy or straightforward process. However, when it works and you get positive feedback and people expressing interest in your work, it is hugely rewarding (so far, emotionally rather than financially!).
For this particular – and very enjoyable – opportunity to tell you all something about my novel, I am extremely grateful to Saira at Authors’ Lounge. I hope you have found it interesting.