Friday, 8 January 2016

Interview with Christopher Edge - The Many Worlds of Albie Bright - Nosy Crow


Here we have the first interview of the new year, which is with Christopher Edge. His latest book "The Many Worlds of Albie Bright" is a brilliant read and one that I would thoroughly recommended. The book will be published by Nosy Crow on the 14th January. The book review will be posted next week, so keep your eyes peeled for that. I hope that you all enjoy the Q&A. Many thanks to Christopher for taking the time out to answer the questions. 

So here it is.......
In a nutshell, what is The Many Worlds of Albie Bright all about?
It's about a boy called Albie Bright who's in Year 6. His mum and dad are scientists and usually have the answers to any question Albie asks. But when Albie's mum dies of cancer and Albie asks his dad if his mum's really in heaven, his dad starts to tell him about quantum physics instead. His dad explains that some scientists believe that this universe - the world we all live in - is only one of an infinite number of parallel universes - and every time our universe is confronted by a choice - for example, to turn left or turn right - it splits into new universes where each possibility actually happens. Albie's dad tells him that according to quantum physics there's a parallel universe out there where Albie's mum never got cancer and is still alive. Instead of the comfort intended, Albie hears hope in these words. If quantum physics says that his mum is still alive in some parallel universe, then maybe quantum physics can help him to find her. Reading about Schrodinger's Cat in one of his dad's books, Albie finds a cardboard box, his mum's laptop and a rotting banana, and sends himself to parallel worlds in search of his mum.
How much of the character of Albie Bright is in you?
I think every character I write has a part of me in them - and increasingly I think I seem to be turning into the characters I write. From my own childhood, I recognise the way that Albie wants to make everything right, even against seemingly impossible odds. I'd like to think that I share Albie's determination and his sense of hope. However I think that Albie's probably more of an expert about science than I was at his age - I only got a grade D in my GCSE Physics exam!
How much research did you do in preparation for writing this book?
As you might guess from my answer to the previous question - lots! I wasn't any kind of science whiz at school, but as an adult I've become fascinated by the wonders of the universe as expertly explained by scientists such as Brian Cox, Jim Al-Khalili, Michio Kaku and Brian Greene. The American physicist Richard Feynman once said, "If you think you understand quantum physics, you don't understand quantum physics", but thanks to a huge pile of books in my office by these and other expert authors, I've been able to pretend that I understand a little more than I did before I started writing The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. It was important to me that all the science mentioned in the book was real and accurately described, so I had the manuscript checked by a friend who's a Professor of Particle Physics and also works at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Luckily he said it passed the test! 
What was your favourite subject at school? Did it have any influence on this book or any other books that you have written?
More than any school subject, I think the biggest influence on this and the other novels I've written is the time I spent in my local library when I was growing up. From discovering favourite authors such as Susan Cooper, Roald Dahl and John Wyndham, to the excitement of being let loose on the adult shelves when I'd exhausted the children's section, every book I read there helped to shape me as a writer. The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is a very different book to Twelve Minutes to Midnight and the other Penelope Tredwell novels, which in their turn seemed to fox attempts to pigeonhole them - one of my favourite reviews described these as a historical-alternate history-mystery-horror-paranormal series - and I think this genre-jumping trait in my writing is a reflection of all the different types of books I first found and fell in love with in the library. And if you look closely you might also be able to spot a reference or two to one of my favourite childhood books in the pages of The Many Worlds of Albie Bright.   
How do you develop your plots and characters? 
For me character and plot go hand in hand, sometimes one leads the way but the other is always following close behind. With The Many Worlds of Albie Bright I had the character of Albie and the central concept of the plot from the very start and I knew exactly how the book would end, but then it was a matter of working out the different stages of Albie's journey in search of his mum. It was a bit of a Russian Doll of a novel to plot, with different parts of the book foreshadowing and echoing others as Albie travels to different parallel worlds. When I finished writing the first draft of the book I found that its structure actually reflected the five stages of grief that psychiatrists describe people as going through when they lose somebody they love, and this element became strengthened in terms of Albie's characterization in the second draft. I used to outline my novels in ridiculous amounts of detail, but now I just need to have a strong sense of the through thread before I start writing. With The Many Worlds of Albie Bright getting Albie's voice right was the key and once I had this in place the rest of the book took off from there.   
If you found a machine that let you travel to a parallel universe, what moment in time would you like to have changed in that universe and why?
Once you start thinking about the implications of the existence of parallel worlds, life can become quite dizzying. If in this universe you step out into traffic and just avoid being hit by a bus, then the chances are you've just ended up as pavement pizza in another parallel world. Everything that can happen does happen somewhere. Maybe fiction is just the broadcasts that make it through from different parallel words. So if I could travel to another parallel universe, maybe I'll pick the one where I've just won the Booker Prize!   
Is there a key message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I'd hate for The Many Worlds of Albie Bright to be seen as a didactic novel. It's more about asking big questions than sending out messages. Even though Albie asks his dad, 'Do you believe in heaven?' I'm not trying to set science up against religion or vice versa, I'm more interested in how stories can help us make sense of the world, with all its wonder and possibilities as well as its inevitable pain. Maybe someone who reads the novel might have lost a parent just like Albie or had to face up to a situation that they wished they could change. Hopefully The Many Worlds of Albie Bright will help them to realise that they're not alone and give them hope and strength for the future.  
Are you currently involved in any writing projects?
At the moment I'm writing a new novel which should hopefully be published in 2017. This is another stand-alone novel and has some semi-autobiographical elements, so for a change this hasn't involved mindbending amounts of research into topics such as quantum physics and the late-Victorian literary scene as my last few books have! I've also got another couple of projects taking shape in the back of my brain but it's a little too early to talk about these at the moment. Watch this space!    

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