Is this your first novel?
Half Sick of Shadows is my first published novel. I’d written two others before it but considered them not good enough to submit. The only reason I don’t have millions of rejection slips is because I never sent much out.
How did it feel to win the Terry Pratchett Prize?
I think I read about the prize in a magazine. I’d written Half-Sick and thought that, with a twist here and a tweak there, it would fit the bill. Twists and tweaks complete I sent the manuscript off and forgot about it. Literally, I forgot about it. Which is why, when I got an email saying I was one of six in the shortlist I almost deleted it. I thought it was spam. By the time the winners were announced [at the prize-giving ceremony at Piccadilly Waterstones; Logan was joint winner with Apocalypse Cow author Michael Logan] I’d consumed about five glasses of wine and was coping quite well. How did it feel? Weird. Weird then and weird now. Little people like me don’t win prestigious prizes. Do they?
How did your idea for Half-Sick of Shadows come about?
I wanted to write the sort of book I’d enjoy reading: think Herman Munster, The Addams Family and a bit of Family Guy mixed with quantum physics and a cameo from Jean Paul Sartre. Yeah. As the writing proceeded, stalled, and restarted it took paths determined by the characters, the location I’d put them in and their dispositions: social class, education, beliefs.
I suppose it’s a determinist philosophy, really, and the book can be read as the conflict between determinism and the longing to break free from it. Reading fantasy is about breaking free from our mundane lives; looking for something bigger, better, weirder, funnier, something to satisfy us and make us happy. And we’re happiest when we’re totally wrapped up in something – anything. I’m happiest when totally wrapped up in making a really good chilli (with 80% cocoa chocolate).
Does Terry Pratchett inspire your writing?
Terry Pratchett inspires me now as a human being. How we live is more important than what we write. The more things that can be read into a book – whether they’re there or not – the better for the book. I’m moving towards a belief in the importance of white space and ambiguity. This might have something to do with my recent discovery of poetry. Most poetry is rubbish, but really good poetry touches and stays with you. It doesn’t have to be heavy. When I read Sylvia Plath’s Mushrooms, I thought: Wow! I get it! Beautiful!
'Half-sick of shadows' is a line from Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott, and the novel centres around a curse that keeps Edward's twin Sophia trapped in their home. What made you decide to adapt a classic Tennyson poem into a modern time-travel tale?
I was reading poetry as part of an Open University course and it just happened. Or, to be weirdy-mystical about it: the real story of Edward and Sophia revealed itself to me when I read The Lady of Shalott and I thought, eureka! That’s what the twins are trying to tell me! I was also reading Richard Feynman’s Easy and Not So Easy Pieces at the time, and was alarmed to discover that because atoms are mostly empty space so am I. If you read about the quantum world, then take the liberty of stepping beyond what science can do - observe and experiment - you’re into the realm of science fiction. When you’re in that realm – although many things are improbable – anything’s possible.
What would you say this book is about?
Its abstract message would be that ultimate reality is possibly stranger than anything humans are capable of imagining...or, it might be about different things to different people. I hope so. At its simplest, it’s about a girl who brings tragedy upon herself by misunderstanding a promise she makes to her father. I think Half-Sick is multi dimensional, which it should be because life is multi dimensional and fiction reflects life because life is all we know about and fiction can’t help but reflect it.
You deal with some very dark themes indeed including abuse, incest and rape. How do you feel about young people reading it?
I didn’t write the book with a specific market in mind; all the how-to-write books and writing magazines are now frowning at me in disapproval. It’s certainly not teen fiction. Nor is Half-Sick “in the style of” Terry Pratchett or anyone else. As for what I think of young people reading it: if they’re young enough some of it might go over their heads. Anyhow, young people are older than older people think.
Most of the men in Half-Sick are brutish, oppressive and uneducated. Why are the females - Sophia, and Edward's mother - so victimised?
Women have always been victims and continue to be. Males are physically stronger animals. Women carry babies and men should exist to serve them, as together males and females nurture the next generation. However, men are stupid and that’s why it all went wrong. I think Adam had the damaged brain that Victor Frankenstein put inside his monster. The relationship is not how it should be. I’m not anti men, but I’d rather have women. I married one – even though she can’t park at the kerb without taking off a hub cap.
Do you think Edward and Sophia's relationship is healthy?
Their relationship is beautiful. At the start. But everything changes. I think I say somewhere in the book that everything must change. After the miracle in the womb, the comfort and safety, post birth everything goes down hill as we race to procreate then rush at death. That’s life. If incest is a crime it’s only because the offspring might have three legs and a beer tin for a brain – best make it a crime if that’s to be the outcome. Exploration? – Where’s the harm?
At the start of the novel Edward and Sophia's lives are enveloped in death and they fear it, but towards the end of the book death is dealt with almost comically. Why does this change take place?
Absurdity. When you’re immature you can fret and worry about getting sick, getting old, getting dead, all kinds of things. When the worst thing that can possibly happen happens – say the death of your only child – you’re no longer afraid of anything, from looking like a fool to dying. All that worry, all that fretting that went before was fluff. The minutiae are absurd. Maybe they only seem absurd to me because I don’t understand them. I’ve always had a problem with, Why? Why anything? At the present time the quantum world seems absurd – as in the idea that one thing can be in different places at the same time. So, what are we to do about death? Fear it? I think not. I’d much rather speculate in the weirdy realm outside of what science can do.
Half-Sick of Shadows by David Logan is published by Doubleday.