Friday, April 5, 2024

6 Books with Oliver K. Langmead

Oliver K. Langmead is an author and a poet based in Glasgow. His novels include British Fantasy Award-nominated Glitterati, Birds of Paradise and Metronome, and his long-form poem, Dark Star, featured in the Barnes and Noble and the Guardian’s Best Books of 2015.

Today he tells us about his Six Books:

1. What book are you currently reading?
I've just finished Kelly Link's The Book of Love, and I'm still recovering. It felt like an indulgence, reading that book - as if it was an enormous box of chocolates, and each scene was a rich treat. I found myself savouring it. There is a real trend, in contemporary fantasy, for novels to have pacing that feels like TV: quick and spare, with every scene feeling absolutely essential to the narrative. Historically, though, fantasy is a lot more indulgent - it meanders, it dwells, and it works indirectly, creating a marvellous sense of space. The Book of Love's meandering is gorgeous, and we are given so much time to enjoy each character that it felt like a shame when it was over. As debuts go, it's extraordinary.

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?

I would be lying if I said anything other than The Book of Elsewhere - the collaboration between Keanu Reeves and China Miéville. The collaboration alone should be enough to pique anyone's interest. More than that - it's been a very long time since Miéville last had any fiction published, and I'm excited to see what this next offering might bring. That being said, I am a little wary. Miéville's last two forays into fiction - This Census Taker, and The Last Days of New Paris - were extremely experimental, in ways that didn't always work for me. I appreciate Miéville's experimentations, absolutely - but I also find myself longing for more in the vein of his older works, like The City and The City, or even the Bas Lag trilogy, where the experimentation feels more like an extension of the narrative. I wonder, too, how the collaboration will affect his usually quite striking style. Whatever emerges, I'm sure it will be fascinating.

3. Is there a book you're currently itching to re-read?

I'll tell you a secret: the first time I read Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I read it wrong. I had seen it about here and there - recommended by everyone worth listening to - and decided that I would take it on holiday with me. So, I bought the e-book, and downloaded it onto my (decidedly quite ancient) e-reader. The book was brilliant - everything I imagined it would be, and more - and, of course, I was delighted that I could finally join in on conversations about it. It didn't take very long for someone to ask me about the footnotes, however. "What footnotes?" I declared. Because, as it turned out, my e-reader had decided to keep them from me. So: I have accidentally read a (perfectly readable, perfectly wonderful) "clean" version of the book, without any of the marvellous extras. I'm very much looking forward to buying a physical edition and sitting down to what I expect to be quite a different reading experience.

4. How about a book you've changed your mind about - either positively or negatively?

Ah! I had this happen recently. Miéville again, I'm afraid. I was speaking with a friend of mine - Matthew Sangster - about his experience writing an article about the mixed reception to Iron Council (the third in Miéville's Bas Lag trilogy), and I remembered how much I hadn't enjoyed it the first time I read it. So, I gave it another go. And on that second attempt, I absolutely fell in love with it. I think the problem with my first reading was that I read it straight after Perdido Street Station and The Scar, and Iron Council felt so alien to them that it alienated me in turn. Coming back to it as a stand-alone book opened my eyes to what it actually is: a rich political fantasy, with elements of Cormac McCarthy and even a little Ursula K. Le Guin thrown in for good measure. So much of reading is context - and it is an odd thing to come across a book which is part of a trilogy, but works better read apart from it.

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

One of the first books I can remember reading was Brian Jacques' Redwall. I was a huge fan of The Animals of Farthing Wood, and Redwall combined that kind of colourful anthropomorphism with a fantastical twist - the animals lived in an abbey! They were squirrels, and shrews, and mice, and they had to fend off evil rats and stoats! There were swords, and richly described meals, and fantastical heroes! But it wasn't Jacques's imagination, or even his wonderful riddles, that were at the heart of Redwall and the rest of the series - it was his ability to capture voices that struck me. He wrote in a way that made me feel as if I could really hear each of his characters speaking in my head. Today, I can look back at it and see the pageantry of it - the almost comically clichéd accents he was reproducing - but that trick has always stayed with me, as a writer. If I can clearly hear the way my characters speak as I write them, they come to life on the page.

6. And speaking of that, what's your latest book, and why is it awesome?

I have a book out this year called Calypso. It's a science-fiction space opera written in verse, about a colony ship and the terraforming of a new world. I interviewed astronauts to research it, worked with an illustrator for some of the graphical elements of it, and the majority of it is in metre. I can promise you a reading experience like you've never had before, but in a way that won't alienate you: you can read it like you would a prose novel. I keep describing it as a "page-turner poem". Some really wonderful people have given it praise - from Sarah Waters, to Tade Thompson - and I'm so happy that it's found such a brilliant publisher in Titan Books: they have made it a stunningly beautiful object. If you find yourself in the mood for something a bit different, why not give it a go?

Thank you, Oliver!

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.