Rookie Report: Sam Thompson
Do you remember how you came to this city, Ulya? Think back, because we need to agree on what happened right from the start. I want to help him out as much as you do, believe me. I know you’re worried, and in your place I’d be the same – but I can promise you that conditions are actually quite tolerable in there. So let’s approach this calmly. When I’ve said what I have to say, I’m going to offer you an opportunity, and I hope you’ll feel able to respond.
It was early morning, remember, when you and Nicolas arrived. Did your spirits lift at the first sight of what you’d travelled so far to reach? A world of grey dawn twilight and blackened stone above, rainwater dripping from the girders, pigeons sulking in rows and strangers spilling from carriages to gather on the concourse, disoriented. Even at that hour the Grand Terminus was full of migrants anxious to enter the city. They formed queues for processing, shambling in their soiled clothes, their heads twitching at the noise of the tannoy.
I picked you out of the crowd right away.
—Excerpt from Communion Town
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Sam Thompson: Ten voices tell the story of a strange, fractured city.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
ST: Joyce’s Dubliners and Borges’s Labyrinths. I feel embarrassed dropping such big names, and obviously I’m not claiming even the faintest resemblance—just that they were inspirations. I wanted to do a portrait of a city in connected stories, but one with an uncanny, genre-hopping aspect.
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
ST: The ingredients keep changing. With Communion Town, the style began with pastiche: my private method was to imagine that each section of the book wore the mask of one particular favourite author (G K Chesterton, M R James, Angela Carter, Alasdair Gray and M John Harrison are in there, among others) and, I hope, to find a way through imitation into something new. But the book I’m writing now doesn’t work like that, so I’m having to invent a new recipe.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
ST:Treasure Island. I can’t actually remember reading it for the first time, but I have the sense that it was some kind of primal experience of narrative delight. Or else Gide’s Immoralist, which I read as a teenager at just the right moment for maximum impact.
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
ST: Yes please, I’d love to have a go in your time machine.
Get your copy of Communion Town from Indiebound
Sam Thompson’s book Communion Town was longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. He was born in London and lives with his family in Oxford. He teaches English at St Anne’s College, Oxford, and has written for the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, the Guardian and BBC Radio 4.