The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Peter Gill

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Peter Gill


Summary: We enjoyed Peter Gill's riff on the number 42 - 42 - Douglas Adams' Amazingly Accurate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything and the chance to ask him some questions was too good to miss.
Date: 30 April 2011
Interviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James

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We enjoyed Peter Gill's riff on the number 42 - 42 - Douglas Adams' Amazingly Accurate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything and the chance to ask him some questions was too good to miss.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, what do you see?

Peter Gill: Neurones, mostly neurones. Different as we think we all are, millions of people’s brains around the world possess a customised set of nerve cells attuned to go: 'Would you look at that! There's that number 42 again'. It’s just brilliant. Life uses up 3.7 billion years carelessly selecting for evolutionary advantage and as a direct result we get the celebrity integer. Almost as if someone was having a joke.

  • BB: What gave you the idea for 42? (I'm assuming the Hitchhiker's Guide featured quite heavily when you thought of it, obviously - but was there a particular moment which made you think that you wanted to write a whole book?)

PG: The idea went ping while I was reading Harry Potter. Like all right-thinking people I saw that Rowling had chosen page 42 to let the lad in on the news he’s actually a wizard. This was obviously highly significant and a book was needed. Suddenly, ten years later, I got started. As Mr Simpson said: ‘If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing tomorrow’.

  • BB: You have possibly the best Twitter name in existence with 42nd_Tweet - how important do you think it is for an author today to reach out to their fans via Twitter, or similar sites?

PG: Thank you for the kind compliment but CAPSLOCK_HOLMES has to be one amongst many more inspirational handles. It is an extremely interesting question though — stats out this week show readers increasingly loving Kindle ebooks (other Kindles are available) being sold at one pound or dollar. Or free. At these prices there tends not to be enough the money returned (barring runaway best-sellers) to pay for the professional input and promotional spends that have in the past brought new authors to the attention of readers. Catch-22*. Will the new great authors only break through by virtue of also being the new great self-publicists? Very unlikely and almost certainly highly undesirable. It’s just such a shame that Douglas Adams isn’t here to explain over a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster or six the details of how the new world of Gutenberg II is going to shape up.

  • BB: What's your favourite of the Douglas Adams TV, film and radio adaptations out there?

PG: Absolutely the radio: first, second and third. The 25 year old Douglas Adams wrote The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to The Galaxy to be heard. If in parallel universe 42 Douglas Adams has written the novel before the radio script I can’t believe it is so fantastically, differently, creative and it won’t have gained such a presence in their consciousness.

  • BB: What's your very favourite 42 related piece of trivia?

PG: I don’t have a favourite 42 but I remember very well discovering anon-trivial incidence that allowed the inclusion of a fascinating piece of American history. I’d been working on a piece about the ‘Roswell Triangle’, this being a fictitional area of dry land I was intent on comparing for entertainment purposes with the Bermuda Triangle. I was more than surprised to stumble across the fact that the biggest disaster in American nautical history (more deaths than the Titanic) had actually taken place in my Roswell Triangle. The paddlesteamer Sultana had exploded on the Mississippi at the end of the Civil War. There was no link with 42 but I just wanted to learn more about the story so I got sent, from the US, the only book written about the Sultana. The author described how she was seriously overloaded with returning troops when a botched boiler repair had failed soon after leaving Memphis late at night. The explosion caused a fire that quickly burned the superstructure down to the watermark, forcing men into the cold spring meltwaters. 1800 people drowned in the darkness. The Sultana had just passed Sunken Island 42.

  • BB: How long did it take you to write 42, and how difficult was it to find a publisher?

PG: I was lucky, I wrote on spec, enclosing a few pages of worked ideas, to one publisher and two days later was chuffed to receive an affirmative email from the genial Simon Petherick at Beautiful Books. Then I had five months.

  • BB: Do you read to relax and if so, what do you enjoy reading? Have books played a big part in your life?

PG: I’ve always read and read although I’ve always wished I did so faster. When quite young I remember my universe being bounded by the paltry two library tickets a week we were permitted back then. I’ve read very many individual good books but some of the authors whose writing consistently speaks to me (remembering of course that often a favourite meat turns to poison elsewhere) are — in travel writing: Raban and Twain, in autobiography: Feynmann and Leigh Fermor, in science: McPhee, in humour: Wodehouse, Twain and Waugh the Elder. I could list many more.

  • BB: If you were asked to write a seventh book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy, would you give it a go? If not, are there any authors out there you think could tackle the job? (I've skipped Eoin Colfer's sixth personally but heard mixed reviews...)

PG: I think very much not. Arguably the only defining characteristic of all the greats is their originality and Beethoven’s 10th Symphony will never exist — no matter how many white-hot composers were invited to assemble some notes in the style of Ludwig van B, and so I can only admire Eoin Colfer’s courage.

  • BB: If you had one wish, what would it be?

PG: To be able to pass it on to the person who needed it most.

  • BB: What's next for Peter Gill?

PG: I’ll be writing more books: some humorous non-fiction like 42, and at least one serious non-fiction title. I’ll start tomorrow.

This interview was given to Bookbag by YaYeahYeah

  • BB: Now that's the sort of dedication we love to hear about, Peter!

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