David Park has written nine previous books including The Big Snow, Swallowing the Sun, The Truth Commissioner, The Light of Amsterdam, which was shortlisted for the 2014 International IMPAC Prize, and, most recently, The Poets’ Wives, which was selected as Belfast’s Choice for One City One Book 2014. He has won the Authors’ Club First Novel Award, the Bass Ireland Arts Award for Literature, the Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize, the American Ireland Fund Literary Award and the University of Ulster’s McCrea Literary Award, three times. He has received a Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and been shortlisted for the Irish Novel of the Year Award three times. In 2014 he was longlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. He lives in County Down, Northern Ireland.
At our DCPL Readers’ Day, he will join a host of other talented writers to speak about his work. Here, he tells us about the inspiration behind his latest novel, his creative collaboration with photographer Sonya Whitefield and the art of weaving past and present in fiction.
How did the idea for Travelling in a Strange Land come into being?
As with many things we imagine, the genesis of this novel that describes a father’s journey from Belfast to Sunderland to bring his ill son home from university when snow has closed the airports, is found in real life. I had a son at university in Sunderland and just before Christmas in 2010 when he was due to come home heavy snows closed Newcastle airport. He wasn’t well and we really wanted to get him home, so we considered the possibility of driving to him but conditions made that impossible. So my imagined story of this same journey is a kind of ‘What if…?’
The novel takes a form that strikes me as difficult to achieve, with its storyline spanning only the length of a single journey but delving into memories that stretch back much further. Have you any advice for aspiring novelists seeking to weave together past and present in this way?
You try to weave past and present seamlessly. Sometimes they bleed into each other like painted colours that are running. At times readers needs to work out for themselves where in time they are. In real life we simultaneously occupy multiple time periods. The connections between the past and present schemes can’t be artificial or contrived. It has to flow.
You show an unusual sensitivity to the potential of different art forms in influence and inspire one another, having collaborated with photographer Sonya Whitefield to exhibit her personal response to your work and even produced a Spotify playlist to accompany the novel. What can you tell us about your collaboration with Sonya and what these interactions between forms mean to you?
I wanted this book to be as immersive an experience as possible for the reader. In seeking to achieve this I wanted to incorporate different art forms. The central character of the novel is a photographer and so it seemed a good idea to work collaboratively with Sonya. She responded in a personal way to the novel and I think her beautiful photographs journey to the heart of the book’s themes and the very mysteries of life. Tom listens to music in the car and it’s an important part of his relationship with his sons. I hope people will listen to the playlist. It will help their emotional understanding of the character and what’s in his head.
Can you tell us about a book that has influenced or inspired you?
There are many books that inspire me, as there are many art forms that energise me and make me want me to achieve more. I love Richard Ford’s work and in particular one of his earlier and less well-known books called Wildlife.