|Photo credit: Ste Murray|
Sharpson's impressive debut novel was born out of a few real life disasters, a love for Le Carre, and a stage play that grew too large for the stage. The play was The Caspian Sea, and it became When the Sparrow Falls, a Kafka-esque novel that's funny in that Vonnegut sort of way, available on June 29th from TOR. Click here for information about the virtual book lauch.
Sharpson lives in Dublin and enjoys watching and ranking as many Disney and Marvel movies as he can get his hands on, watching all the cartoons, and writing of course! You can learn more about him at his website and blog, unshavedmouse.com, and follow him on twitter at @UnshavedMouse.
We chatted over email about his process to convert a stage play into a novel, what it must be like to live in the Caspian Republic, and how the story came together. And of course we found time for some fun stuff too! Let's get to the interview!NOAF: Congratulations on your novel, When the Sparrow Falls! Where did the idea for this book come from, and what is the significance of the book's title? Neil Sharpson: Thank you kindly! The first germ of the idea that would become Sparrow came about when I saw the 2011 version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy which is still one of my favourite films. It was my first exposure to Le Carré and I was instantly hooked on the whole aesthetic. I wanted to write something set in a world like this; foggy streets, foggier morals, enemies behind every rain-slick wall and very quiet, very meticulous men very quietly and very meticulously destroying each other. But I’ve always been terrified of getting details wrong so I decided to set my story in a country of my own creation rather than a real Eastern Bloc nation. That’s where the Caspian Republic came from. I had the idea knocking around in my head for a while and then an actor friend of mine asked me to write her a dialogue for an audition. That became the scene where Augusta Niemann calls Nikolai South into her office and gives him the Xirau detail and with that I was away. Writing the play was actually a very difficult process and I ended up putting it down and picking it up again over the course of six years.
NOAF: When the Sparrow Falls was adapted from your stage play The Caspian Sea. What was that process like, to take a stage play that is all movement and dialog, and adapt it into a novel? NS: It was an absolute joy. I’ve always struggled with structure but when I set out to write Sparrow I already had the structure laid out for me as well as most of the major characters, themes, etc. The first draft only took me three months because all the hard work had been done by that idiot patsy, Past Neil. NOAF: While you were adapting the play into a novel, where there any scenes that had to cut entirely? Were there any scenes that aren't in the play and were created exclusively for the novel? NS: The novel is to all intents and purposes the play with some extra characters and sub-plots, a lot of extra world-building, backstories for most of the main players and resolution to several mysteries that were left ambiguous in the stage version. The biggest change, without a doubt, is that my favorite character, Sally Coe, is entirely absent from the play. There is one scene in the play that is not in the book and that is because it’s the only scene in the play where Nikolai South is not present and so, since the book is told first person from his perspective, there was no elegant way to include it. It’s a scene where Lily wakes up in her cloned human body and a nurse helps her learn how to walk and navigate in the physical world for the first time. It’s a scene I really like, and shows a slightly snarkier side to Lily while also showing how other natural born humans such as the nurse view the Caspian Republic (they’re not fans). NOAF: What was your favorite scene in When the Sparrow Falls to write? NS: The scene in the Morrison Hotel where Grier and South get to enjoy a good meal and actually start to bond as they go over the death of Paulo Xirau. Just a scene I felt really came together nicely. NOAF: Now for some fun stuff! Which Marvel movie is your favorite? NS: MCU? Thor: Ragnarok. Any Marvel movie? Into the Spider-Verse. Any comic book movie? Into the Spider-Verse. Any animated movie? Into the Spider-Verse. Any movie? Into the Spider-… NOAF: Who is your favorite character from Futurama? NS: Oh come on, how is that even a question? It’s obviously Doctor John Zoi…ALL HAIL THE HYPNOTOAD. NOAF: ALL HAIL THE HYPNOTOAD