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The Blue Food Revolution: 07/06/10
Rather than write up a review of The Blue Food Revolution by Tim Roux, I'm featuring instead an interview that I did with the author shortly after I finished reading the book. It's an unusually presented book, as two novellas, printed back to back that can be read together or separately. The novellas though share characters and plot points.
Questions for The Blue Food Revolution
Q: The book is designed for reading in alternating chapters, whether it's one chapter per story or a few at a go. Did you alternate when writing them?
A:"The Blue Food Revolution' is one of two books that have come to me without my having the least intention of writing them.
The first was "The Dance of the Pheasodile' – probably my most popular book, about a London commercial architect who goes for a hypnotherapy session and comes out finding that his soul has entered the body of a seedy Northern English petty gangster whom everybody hates (think New York and Pittsburgh) – whose first chapter turned up in a dream which I copied down word-for-word. In "The Dance of the Pheasodile', I hadn't a clue what the story was about but I was highly intrigued by the opening scene of a man suspended from a helicopter naked outside his wife's 18th floor office, so I had to keep writing to find out the plot, and the denouement, of course. That book literally (literally literally) wrote itself. I made my first plot decision 40,000 words in (halfway through), I only made three plot decisions in the entire book, and it was published virtually unedited except that I had to knock out about 1,000 "h's as some of the dialogue is in Northern English dialect.
With "The Blue Food Revolution', the process was very similar. The first story – the "his' Magogia tale – actually came from a conversation with the British singer-songwriter Joe Solo whose songs about the First World War – "Potter's Field' – I was reviewing (as I explained in the dedication). The conversation was about how difficult it is to treat WWI in fiction and drama because everybody knows everything about it. As you will probably have realized, this Magogia story has many references (to the proposed banning of the birka in Europe – thus the nakedness, to the Swiss army being the largest army per capita of population in the world and it hasn't fought a national war since the 13th century, to the creep of the corporate ethos into military life etc.), but the central one is replaying WW1 as farce, as anti-war, similarly to "Oh What A Lovely War'. Having got Magogia out of the way, the dam burst. I think I wrote the "his' version of the "Reuters' story next, followed by the "his' opening chapter, which was based on the remnants of a book I abandoned 30 years ago. I cannot remember what happened after that, but I think I wrote the "his' version of "her' home town with motorist-lunch falling from the sky, at which point I evened up with a series of "her' stories, starting with "her' version of her home town, her visit to the island where the murders take place (based on a little island off Ibiza in the Mediterranean called Formentera), "her' London story and "her' Magogia story. After that, I think they were mostly written at random but I was aware I wanted to match at least half of them – to match them all would have been overly formulaic; I was stretching readers' credulity enough as it was.
As background, in general I write as an avid reader (I read probably 50-60 books a year, including editing work nowadays). I start with a problem to be solved and then write to solve it, so that I am discovering the story in parallel with the reader. I never decide the ending until I get to it. I wanted to give "Girl On A Bar Stool' a happy ending, and fully intended to do so as I sat down to write the last chapter, then suddenly Adam's son was lying there in the middle of the road killed by Adam.
Q: From the book description, the "Blue Food" novella is described as: "a metaphor for the pursuit of happiness." In the first chapter though Gabriel uses words like "enlightenment" and "rite of passage" to describe the reason behind his sudden journey. How do these three concepts come together in "Blue Food"?
A:The book overall is my surrealistic take on the world, written in homage to two of my favorite writers, Jorge Luis Borges (especially "The Book of Sand') and Italo Calvino (especially "Invisible Cities'). It is mostly looking at that moment in history where duty gave up at least some ground to the right to self-actualize, to "follow your bliss' as all the self-help pundits put it nowadays. In Britain at least, but wider than that, 1945 was a watershed. Everybody expected Churchill to be re-elected Prime Minister, but instead Clem Atlee got voted in on a "people's charter' – the national health service, social security etc.. The old class system of duty above all began to fall apart. You were allowed to explore and, to some limited degree, indulge yourself – all the more so as the "60s took over, introducing both the Hippy Revolution and the Consumer Revolution.
BFR is about a couple doing just that. The one ("her') seeks liberation from a claustrophobic social system, the other ("his') has liberation thrust upon him. Freedom has its wonders but it also has its horrors and terrors. Travel may open the mind, and certainly provides many enjoyable experiences, but it is also sometimes lonely and may ultimately prove to be mere wandering the globe purposelessly in search of an unarticulated something. So, the two of them are separately going through a rite of passage towards maturity, learning many lessons and hoping, as we all do, to find happiness at the end of the rainbow.
I tried to make the "his' stories more grandiose and the "her' stories more down to earth, but without stressing this point too much.
Q:John Parfitt seems to jump through time and space where as Marion seems to travel by more conventional methods. How does their method of travel define or reflect their characters?
A:The thought behind that, which may or may not be a good or correct one, is that men tend to pontificate about world affairs and jump around between one "hot spot' topic and the next, whereas women tend to be more socially aware and inclined to seek the continuation of relationships. So, there is no continuation of relationships in the "his' stories at all, as I remember. He leaps from place to place without looking back until he meets her. In the "her' stories, she has several continuing relationships – with her friends in Magogia, taking the restaurant owner into the land of euthanasia (Switzerland again - Dignitas), and staying in touch with her family and her sister, even though she hates her sister much of the time.
Q: Marion's first chapter shows how her village found a unique way revolt against Hitler. How does the theme of revolution continue through the remainder of her novella?
A:The term "revolution' is used both as a pun and as a reality of the world in the novel. It is what the book is designed to explore.
The pun is that the book is literally revolutionary because you have to flip it around.
The revolution in the content is primarily the social revolution I have described – the move in Western Europe from "we' to "me', at least to some extent.
However, as it happens, there are several revolutions in the book: the first against Hitler in Austria, the overthrowing of the Queen in Magogia by her son to end her anti-violence cultural revolution, the revolutionary poets in Saastopia (based on Osama bin Laden who is a member of the Saudi Royal Family which owns most of Saudi Arabia – SAAS stands for Saudi Arabia al Saud) etc..
There is also a scientific revolution described in two chapters – Quantum Mechanics (the "his' story where he is executed in two places at once – or is he? – and the "her' story where she is married to a professor of Quantum Mechanics who is buried so deep in his sub-atomic world among the quarks and the scintilla that he doesn't notice her at all except when he needs her for physical and logistical reasons).
There is also a sort of cultural revolution in one of the last stories where the king destroys the civilized fabric of his country (based on Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, but it could have been Mao Zedong in China during The Great Leap Forward when he got everybody melting down their woks in the name of national economic regeneration with the result that millions upon millions starved). This story also references an ancient North American Indian tribe who worked off a system of inverted capitalism. Each year they would have a big ceremony in which they would burn their blankets – whoever burnt the most blankets was declared the most important person in the village.
Come to think of it, there is another one – the branding revolution – "Reuters' and "her' story about becoming the Marketing Manager for the Bata ice-cream company. How lost we would be if the labels were switched around. Some of those branding references will probably be lost on a non-UK audience. For instance, in "Reuters' there is a perfume called "Carl Findus' – Findus is a brand of frozen fish meals in the UK - games, games, games.
Q: From your dedication you mention music inspiring the scenes in Magogia. Did music inspire any of the other countries?
A:Not particularly for BFR as far as I recall, but definitely for the immediate follow-up, a book called "(Just like) El Cid's Bloomers', which is a romantic comedy about a singer-songwriter built around 19 actual Joe Solo songs. In the e-book version, the songs themselves are embedded, but in the paperback you only get the lyrics. I claim that this is the world's first musical written specifically for an e-book format. I haven't a clue whether it is true or not, but I couldn't find any others. When Anthony Burgess said that he fashioned his novels after symphonic notation, I thought he was being hopelessly pretentious, then I found myself writing my first book, "Blood and Marriage', to the rambling rhythm of a rock song – "Michael Picasso' by Ian Hunter.
Q: What's the one thing you want readers to come away from your book?
A:Laughing, perhaps moved in places, but above all perhaps recognizing that the actual world is even weirder in reality than I have described it in BFR. Almost every piece of action in BFR is referenced to a specific event or specific country.
The teazer you quoted about Albania (Shqipëria) came from a conversation with a friendly woman in a bookshop in Belgium who is Albanian and who told me about Albanian customs. The idea of covering a country in toxic sludge may seem at first absurd, but large parts of several countries are covered in toxic waste, many tracts of land are littered with hidden landmines, the use of Agent Orange and Napalm didn't do too many of the locals any favors, the Bikini Atoll was uninhabitable after the dropping of the first hydrogen bomb etc., and some Pacific Islands (Naura / Banaba) were cleared of people in order to mine phosphates to the point where there is no island left (the basis for the story about the people walking around a blasted choking valley in formal Edwardian dress).
We are brought up to believe that the world is causal and controllable and only what we can objectively sense. There is no question that that teaching is plain wrong (Quantum Physics proves that). One of my favorite quotes is from a guy called Hugh Prather who said something like "Oh what a fool I have been to spend so much time trying to figure out how the world really is, when all the time it wasn't".
I mentioned the company Bata, in reality a shoe company originally based in Czechoslovakia in an HQ with two floors. The management couldn't decide which floor they should be stationed on, so they created an office in a specially-built elevator so that they could be on one floor some days of the week, and on the other floor the rest of the time.
I can tell you the actual reader reaction I have had to BFR. It is totally polarized. Some people absolutely love it; others absolutely loathe it. A good friend who is a New York writer said that if anybody told me they liked it, they must be obsequious, self-seeking fools. Then, the next day, as I prepared to shoot myself, someone popped up and said "That was absolutely fantastic". So, for me, it is a perfect book – provocative of thought with a few laughs for some people along the way.
Thanks so much for asking, Sarah.