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'Fukushima Dreams' is set in post-tsunami Japan (Artem Sapegin/Unsplash)

‘I used to finish every book I started. Now I don’t bother’

Q&A | 3 minute read
Unbound author, Zelda Rhiando on what she reads and how she writes

Where do you write?

When I’m in London I work in my studio in Brixton Market, which is great for hiding away, and concentrating. I also really like writing on trains. I had to travel to research my first two books, and there’s nothing like being on a long-distance train to focus the mind and get the creative juices flowing.

What’s the last really good book you read?

Hmm… I read a lot and come across many books curating the Brixton BookJam. Recent standouts include The Cardinal’s Man by Merlin Sinclair, Tim Pears’ West Country Trilogy and The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola.

 What book marked you as a child or teenager?

I don’t think I could name a single book that marked me. I grew up without TV, in a house with lots of books, but almost none aimed at children. There were the Narnia Books by C. S. Lewis and many esoteric philosophical texts by writers like Gurdjieff. I also scared myself silly reading Bram Stoker under the covers aged nine. As a teenager discovering Kundera, Nabokov, Konrad and Dostoevsky was revelatory. Also Clive James and a lot of sci-fi!

Pen and paper or laptop?

I always carry a notebook and hand-write chapters of the book I’m working on. Then I type them up in the studio when I’ve got a good chunk that feels like it’s ready to go into the manuscript. The same for editing – print it out and mark it up, then back to the computer to put in any changes.

Do you re-read books or is life too short?

Yes, frequently, if they’re good. In fact I’ve returned to some of my favourite books seven or eight times. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco and Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner are two books that give new insights every time they’re read. Conversely, I used to finish every book that I’d started. Now I don’t bother if I really hate a book. I stopped reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, because she was so relentlessly sadistic towards her characters.

Who is the best fictional hero and villain?

If you mean hero AND villain, rolled into one person, it has to be Mephistopheles from Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, who embodies heaven and hell in one being:

Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?

When did you last visit your local library?

I’m a regular library user, partly because I’ve got kids who love to read and it’s the only way I can keep up with their appetite for new books. We are very lucky to have dedicated librarians that run many bookish events as well as making sure our library is well stocked. The value of a library in supporting local communities cannot be overstated.

What classic have you lied about reading?

I’m pretty honest about what I have and haven’t read… life is short, and if you don’t get on with a book, then there’s often no point persisting with it. I’ve read Ulysses twice, but only bothered with 50 pages of Finnegans Wake. I don’t like Dickens!

Finally, what’s the elevator pitch for the book you’re working on/you’re publishing?

Fukushima Dreams, which was published in March, is set in Japan. It tells the story of the 2011 tsunami, two very flawed parents, and a missing child. It has been described as a revenge tragedy and also a meditation on grief, and is in all good bookshops!

I’m currently working on a new book set in Brixton and St Thomas’ mortuary, about magpies, loneliness, and a quest for power…

Fukushima Dreams is published by Unbound