10 Questions: Peter Buwalda

10 Questions: Peter Buwalda

Sum up your book in three words.
Character meets plot.

Where did the initial idea come from?
I wanted to depict a family in modern times and a clash between generations, the clash brought about by the Internet. I was thinking about how young people experience their youth in comparison to mine in 1985 and how porn was then, and it was something you saw once a year or so and in 2005 it was something that was there every day and it made me think that it was a public secret at the time that nobody talked about but everybody knew and from that moment on I figured out this family and the plot.

How was the title chosen?
I didn’t have a title until the end and my publisher put a gun to my head and said “Give me a title!” so I had one day and I invented maybe 10 titles, I went to the publishing house and showed everybody my list and everyone picked out the same one and it was Bonita Avenue. The reason I invented it was because if you take all the time told in the story, starts somewhere in a Japanese internment camp with the father of Sigerius and ends in 2008 with Aaron wanting to go to LA, there is only one period when everyone is happy – that’s in Berkeley on Bonita Avenue. My own favourite was Fort Sigerius but looking backwards I’m happy with Bonita Avenue.

What's your writing routine?
Get up early, like going to an office, sit down all day until office gets out around 5.30 and if I don’t have my amount of words, let’s say 750, I work in the evening, I must get that amount of words. If I’m not serious about it things get worse and worse and I end up doing nothing so I have to be very secure on the amount of words.

Which book do you wish you'd written?
The Dean’s December by Saul Bellow.

What's your favourite word in the English language?
It must be rocknroll, says what it is.

Who's your favourite fictional character?
Frits van Epters.

What was your favourite book as a child?
The books of Karl May.

What book are you recommending to everyone at the moment?
Solar by Ian McEwan, one of his best I think.

What do books and reading mean to you?
I always think about the question whether you would be deaf or blind, that deafness and blindness is music and literature to me, they’re both extremely interesting and important in my life and I could not choose.

We went on to chat about creating the characters in Bonita Avenue – it’s a book full of secrets, lies and some very big mistakes with three main characters circling each other. Buwalda doesn’t see any of them as completely dislikeable, saying: “Maybe it’s important to give people different sides. Somebody has a bad side or maybe there is some sparkle of goodness – then you can relate, because nobody is completely pure.” I asked about Joni, the main female character, who I found fascinating because of her rejection of almost everything women are supposed to embrace. Peter said: “It was very conscious, I thought it was important to avoid certain clichés and make her stronger than the men who are involved so I made her more funny and intelligent than her boyfriend and more in charge of their project (the project being an amateur Internet porn site). I think it’s more interesting in this story than somebody being misused.” Pornography plays a fairly central role in the book and we talked about the relationship between fiction and sex: “In the time of DH Lawrence, there was no pornography widely available so the writer could try to arouse people and maybe that could be deliberate or interesting, and now it isn’t so to talk about it must have a double meaning or critique of the genre.”

We talked about the tipping point in the novel, the moment the characters lose control of their secrets which led on to discussing coincidences in novels and how to write such crucial moments without them seeming like devices to further the plot. “Really, it was a big concern so that’s the reason I made Sigerius a professor of maths so he could think about coincidence within his own novel. He thinks about it in a sharper, more intelligent way than the reader does so hopefully then the coincidences go from being a weakness to a strength and it’s not a problem anymore.” We finished by discussing the ending of the novel which leaves some questions unanswered, “I don’t think it’s very aesthetic when you round everything off, I don’t like it. I don’t like Hollywood movies or novels where everything falls into place in the end. In life, things don’t fall into place.”

Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda from Pushkin Press is available now.

Author Image: Victor Schiferli