Alice Thompson - Author Interview
Reality and dreams
Alice Thompson is renowned for her fascination with unpredictable and unsettling prose. Her remarkable fourth novel, The Falconer, is no exception, as Camilla Pia discovers
A very relaxed-sounding Alice Thompson has just returned to her Edinburgh home after a short stay in Glen Artney, the rural retreat that provided the main inspiration for her eerie latest book. She is eager to explain what it is about the atmospheric location she finds so appealing.
‘I go up there to write mostly,’ she explains. ‘The beauty of the Glen was my starting point and after reading more about it I started to see the place as somewhere with a real history of pain that threw into question its romantic side. So I wanted to depict it that way; as a source of consolation and beauty but also somewhere quite sinister, to represent the darker side of our nature.’
Thompson achieves this brilliantly in The Falconer. Her main protagonist Iris Tennant travels to the Highlands to work for a member of the Scottish aristocracy in the hope of discovering why her sister Daphne committed suicide there a year previously. Against a backdrop of impending war, the line between imagination and reality becomes blurred as Iris finds herself affected by the mysterious characters she encounters and the strange goings-on in this creepy yet enchanting tale.
It comes as no surprise to hear that although Thompson began writing aged six, churning out countless cartoons and stories about a female bank robber, inspiration soon came from such literary legends as Iris Murdoch, Muriel Spark, Angela Carter and JG Ballard, and while she had a brief fling with pop fame in the 1980s as the keyboardist in The Woodentops, fiction has always been her first love. ‘It’s much more nerve-wracking to have people read your work than to get up on stage,’ she laughs, ‘but even when I was in the band I used to scribble away on the back of the tour-bus and before soundchecks.’
So what made her want to write in the first place? ‘I like the sense of escape and creating a new world; it’s reassuring when the world outside is so chaotic.’
She adds: ‘I am fascinated by the unconscious and dreams and the logic within them. My fiction in a way is trying to undermine the way that we try to repress our feelings about the uncertainty and unpredictability of everyday life and our curiosity about it. It’s an attempt to find meaning.’
Despite these seemingly sombre ambitions, Thompson’s efforts are as entertaining as they are academic, expertly combining compelling storytelling with a cleverly constructed, elegant and metaphor-ridden style. One of modern fiction’s most unique voices, Ali Smith famously described her as the ‘intellectual future of British writing’.
Interestingly, she is planning something a little different for her forthcoming offerings. ‘My next book is set in Portobello because my last two have been set in the countryside. I love Raymond Chandler and have been inspired by him to do something a bit more gritty and urban. Books that have stayed with me throughout my life have been ones that challenge my preconceptions so I aim to do that with mine.’ She smiles, ‘I want to keep people on their toes.’
The Falconer is out now published by Two Ravens Press.