1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I think rather, writing got into me. At school I found writing a good way of expressing my imagination, while reading showed me how to do it. My father was always one for good speech. He taught physics, but he told his pupils that all they knew about physics was worthless if they couldn’t express it in English.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
Two huge literary influences on me as I was growing up were JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. Of course they have a lot in common, not least that they worked together at Oxford. And also they have this: an imagination to create other worlds – many other worlds in Lewis’ case, and worlds where some sort of passage between is, rarely, possible.
Placing my own new world in a Celtic setting I blame on the last holiday my first wife, Janice, and I had together, on the west coast of Ireland, maybe twenty years ago. The untamed landscape and rugged coast; the self-contained, straightforward nature of the people; the transient weather. I had several chapters written – later to be torn up – long before I moved to the croft on Scoraig.
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
If nothing else, I hope people will gain a glimpse that the prevailing materialist world-view is very limited: that there is so much more to life. Organised religion has done us no service in this regard, with a quite undue emphasis on rigid dogma and rules: dogmas that are too often taken too literally, causing many intelligent people to reject spirituality en bloc.
I don’t apologise at all for the spirituality in Seaborne. Not only is it appropriate that such a people would have a highly developed spiritual sense, but also this is so much what I want to express.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
Mostly, laziness. A fantasy genre means that you can invent your own world, and needn’t be too tied down by research. The only catch is that if you want your world to be believable, you find you then have to research what a parallel culture in our own world would look like, and make your world something like that. I take my guidance from Jill Paton-Walsh’s Knowledge of Angels, set on an island ‘somewhat like Mallorca, but not Mallorca.’
So I had to do a fair amount of research into what life was like in the eleventh century on the Western Isles, and I have Cathy Dagg, a former neighbour and archaeologist, to thank for much of that. Among many other points, she picked out that houses on the Western Isles in the eleventh century didn’t have the chimneys that I had alluded to. Of course I could just say, for instance, that in my world they do; but every time you say that before someone who knows otherwise, you lose some credibility and distance yourself further from our world, the one that you want to speak to.
5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
I thought a lot about this question: which character? There are many candidates. Eventually I settled on my hero, John (or Dhion). I think I’d like to ask him, maybe a few years after the book ends, ‘Do you think you made the right choice? Or have you thrown away a life that you could have returned to and lived it with a deeper wisdom, long, comfortable and secure. Have you thrown that away for (as Conchis in John Fowles’ The Magus puts it) ‘the satisfaction of a passing sexual attraction’?
The John whom we first meet, running away from his failures, could not have answered that question, and felt he didn’t have a choice. But as the story progresses he grows in depth: he becomes Dhion.
I think he would answer that this is no passing sexual attraction. He is not choosing Shinane instead of Helen: in the end he is choosing the self he has come to be with Shinane, and with that a world that seems more real than the one he left behind, in which he had felt driven by the demands of his work to betray everything else, and everyone else, of value in his life. It is a choice between two world views. I think of Archbishop Thomas A’Becket in TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. His first three tempters offer him material advantage in various ways, but he knew, as Dhion knows now, that there is more, so much more, than mere materialism.
Will Dhion regret his choice when he lies dying? I think he might, for more than a moment. But, as Shinane says of herself, who knows what he will think in the future. The point is to live most authentically, now. I think of Robert Jordan in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls as he lies dying, casualty of the Spanish Civil War. And yet, with Maria, for a fleeting few hours, he had known something that Pilar, the wise older woman of the novel, says most people never experience. Who is to say that wasn’t worth it.
6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
For six months or so, while Seaborne was coming up to launch and after, I kept a Facebook page going, and this was helpful in building up an audience for a book-launch tour. But I’m not someone who engages with social media, or enjoys it, and I’ve totally ignored my Facebook page for a few months now. There always seems to be something I’d much rather be doing, out in the field with my hands – or getting on with my next novel.
However, my wife, Gillian Paschkes-Bell, and I do have it in mind to set up a website to include the books we write or edit, with an added blog content about what we’ve been reading or thinking. Probably next year, when we’ve finished the self-build we’re currently working on. Perhaps then I can re-awaken my Facebook page and link it in with that.
7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Study English grammar, syntax and punctuation, and cultivate a deep enjoyment of the sound of language. It’s only when you thoroughly understand the rules of good writing that you can begin to break them, appreciating the cost of doing so.
Study people – their appearance, mannerisms, ways of talking, unconscious leaks of feeling in facial or bodily expression.
Play with ideas – the ‘what if?’ sort of ideas. What if the world was flat? If the Russian Revolution had never happened? If the Civil War had been won by the South? If there really are fairies at the bottom of your garden? Or what would it be like to be an unmarried mother in the Puritan colonies back in the seventeenth century? A fisherman in the westernmost parts of the British Isles of the eleventh century?
And read. See how the experts do it. Read anything but trash.
8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
I think I’m clear about what the future doesn’t hold for me: fame, wealth, best-sellers, Booker Prizes. I write because I love writing and I love the worlds I can create with my writing, and I’m grateful that enough people have appreciated what I’ve written, first to publish it and then to purchase the book and read it – and say they found the readingworthwhile and make complimentary comments about it after.
I want to complete the trilogy of which Seaborne is the first book, and I have a first draft completed of Book II; but I alsohave lots of other things I want to do. I’m an inveterate fixer – I can’t stand anything that doesn’t work without taking it to pieces and putting it together again. Between us, Gillian and I have built our house – with a lot of help from people who actually knew what they were doing – and there are still many things both inside and outside the house that need finishing. And a whole eco-system that needs encouraging out there on the field where we have the privilege to live.
Finally, I am myself a project that needs finishing – and probably won’t be finished in this lifetime. I have a lot of flaws, and side-shoots that need to be pruned away, and branches that must be encouraged and brought to fruition. When all’s said and done, that’s the most important project for each of us – and the most exciting.
About the Author
Andrew (A.G.) Rivett was born in London. He has lived in England, Nigeria, Scotland (where The Seaborne was drafted) and now in Wales.
The inspiration for The Seaborne, his debut novel, came twenty years ago on holiday in Ireland, at which time he wrote some opening chapters, relics of which remain in the published book. The Seaborne, the first book of the planned Island trilogy, was published in November 2019.