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Novel set in India (“This is India. This is the country that explodes”)

17th August 2015

The Weightless World by Anthony Trevelyan, novel set in India.

IMG_1568Steven Strauss, assistant to Raymond Ess, is accompanying his boss on a trip to India to purchase an anti-gravity machine (stay with me, it might seem a preposterous concept but it is an amazing story that gently unfolds over a good 250 pages). Is it indeed a ‘fool’s errand”?

I was gripped by the story and if you ask me now, as I reflect upon the storyline, I still cannot tell you quite what it was that kept me hooked. Its ethereal quality mirrors the heat mirages that rise from the Indian plains. It tackles the shift of thinking, when basic precepts upon which life rumbles on though the centuries, are turned on their head. Something that we take for granted in our generation will shift incontrovertibly in the next generation. We know that gravity is at the heart of science now but how might our whole world view change if something – that feels so familiar, reliable and unquestioned – suddenly shifts and undermines everything we know and goes on to make the world around us feel unfamiliar?

Ess is the cofounder of Resolute, a company on the edge of bankruptcy, having invested heavily in preparations for the European Skycoach plane contract. Despite promises, they didn’t win it. But his hopes are pinned to buying the rights for the anti-gravity machine that he has actually seen in action, and he and Steven arrive in India to locate its inventor, Tarik Kundra. And thus they set off into the blue yonder in a four wheel drive accompanied by Harry and their driver Asha.

Steven is in thrall to Ess, but retains his wariness that this is actually a delusional quest, affirmed by Cantor at Head Office who isn’t going to be releasing the purchasing funds anytime soon. Yet Steven gets carried along by the utter conviction of the project – is it real or is it all an illusion in the mind of someone on the edge? Is he indeed “a fantasist, a crackpot?”….. or has he stumbled across something that will change the world?

“He works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform”

And what of setting? India is vibrant and arid, and certainly in Mumbai the characters immerse themselves in the local culture, whether it is choosing mementoes, eating or taking a walk along The Queen’s Necklace – otherwise known as Marine Drive.

The storyline is a fantastical premise that really does work, and that kept me wanting to find out what happens. It has a magical quality reminiscent of Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookshop by Robin Sloan which was a sizeable hit a couple of Summers ago.

Oh, and the cover! The book is a pleasure to hold, the print is on light cream paper (just think of some books that scream whiter than white at you), it is classy with a grey cover and a rich cerise lining.  The spine bends effortlessly in the palm. It’s a physical pleasure to read. And yet…. first impression from the cover could be that it is in fact some kind of manual.  How well it would perform amongst the myriad of colourful covers, I do not know. It is published by Galley Beggar Press who tend towards covers that are simple and often monochrome.

This is a book that deserves a good audience.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

And over to author Anthony Trevelyan who has kindly agreed to answer some of our questions:

TF: I think this book has converted me to a storyline with a fantastical core. Please tell us a little about how you came to write this book?

AT: It’s interesting that you mention the ‘ fantastical core’, because that part of the book came quite late in my thinking.  The first itch of an idea came as a desire to present a work relationship – the quasi-paternal friendship between an older colleague and a younger – and then to put that relationship under a terrible strain.

I thought a good way to show the cracks in such a relationship would be to send my characters on a business trip.  Once I’d decided the trip would take place in India, the idea of the antigravity machine arrived shortly afterwards.  And the more I considered it, the more I liked it: I soon realised that my vaguely sci-fi premise offered me scope to explore lots of other things – ideas about technology, about money, about the airy weightlessness of Western travellers enjoying profound and ‘heavy’ experiences in conveniently exotic foreign locales…

TF: Getting published can be so hard, so what was your personal journey to seeing your work in print?

AT: I certainly agree that getting published is hard.  I wrote a handful of novels before this one without getting any of them into print.

In early 2013 I made an online application to the New Writing Team at Curtis Brown, submitting a letter, synopsis and the first three chapters of The Weightless World.  A few days later I received an email from Emma Herdman, an agent at Curtis Brown, asking for the rest of the manuscript.  I sent it, and soon afterwards Emma contacted me again to say she’d enjoyed the book and would like to discuss it in person.  With lowish expectations I went to meet Emma, and was bowled over by her enthusiasm and energy.  She offered to represent me, and only a few weeks later she made a deal for the book with Galley Beggar Press.  I will be eternally, immortally grateful to her for that.

TF: You chose India as the setting. What drew you to that country in particular?

AT: I love India.  I work as a teacher at a sixth-form college in Stockport, England, and for years the college has run a trip to India for staff and students.  Since 2005 I’ve been lucky enough to go to India four times, and every time I have been astonished by the life and variety of the place.  Mumbai is perhaps the most relentlessly interesting city on the planet.  I’ve visited a few other places in India – Agra, Delhi, Goa – but only so far as to be aware that I am criminally ignorant of their deeper and broader life.

Of course I realise that I have experienced India only as an outsider experiences it; I have enjoyed its culture and landscape and the hospitality of its brilliant people from a position of uneasy privilege.  I wanted very much to present the ambiguity of such a position in the matrix of the book: the traveller who enjoys and exploits his privileges without even knowing he is doing so; who, in fact, feels rather hard done by if anyone suggests that he’s doing that.

TF: What are you working on at the moment and will setting be strong?

AT: I’ve made a tentative start on a new novel, though it’s still at an early stage.  In some ways the new book picks up where The Weightless World left off (though it’s not a direct sequel or anything).  Setting is already hugely important, perhaps even more so than in TWW.  Like the first this book has elements of a road trip, though this time it’s a trip around England, stopping at quite a variety of locations: places I represent absolutely as faithfully as I can, places I present with ‘parallel universe’ variations, and some places I’ve just made up out of whole cloth.

TF: What brought you to writing in the first place?

AT: My mum.  When I was about eight I decided to write a story as her birthday present, because I knew she enjoyed detective novels.  As I remember, a big plot twist in the story I wrote turned on the discovery of lipstick on a cigarette butt.  Probably I imagined this would appeal to my mum, because I knew she also enjoyed smoking.

Awful to think I got started just because I was too mean to save my pocket money and buy my mother a birthday present.  She’s been very good about it since, and has always encouraged my writing, even when it must have seemed I was taking a long time to achieve nothing much.  My mum was able to attend the Manchester launch for The Weightless World and to see where that first, tight-fisted story had led.  She looked very regal, and seemed quietly pleased with it all.

TF: The cover is simple, striking with a wonderful pairing of colours (grey with a cerise lining). What are your thoughts on your cover?

AT: I think that the book as a whole is just a stunningly beautiful object.  Galley Beggars have become rightly famous for the appearance of their books, and the austere, elegant, distinctive design they adapt to each title means that a Galley Beggar Britain book stands out from the mass of other, shall I say gaudier, offerings at a hundred paces.  It’s also nice that each new title has its own tone and character while having a strong resemblance to the others that have come before it, so that you see this little family of books building up on the shelf.  A family that currently includes, among others, How to be a Public Author by Paul Ewen and A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride…

TF: What does the next year hold for you?

AT: I don’t know!  In the best sense, this is a pretty uncertain time.  It will be interesting – and nerve-wracking – to see how The Weightless World fares with readers; I’ve already been amazed by the number and generosity of early responses, and many bloggers and booksellers have been hugely supportive in helping to promote the book.  With all that going on, I hope to find some time to get on with the work in progress.  I have wild ambitions of completing a first draft before the end of the year – I tend to go through quickly the first time then pick glacially over rewrites – but I will have to be happy with whatever I get.  I will only have one year that is the year people read my first novel, and I intend to make the most of it.

Thank you to Anthony, follow him on Twitter.

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