Q. Black Bread White Beer is a curious title. It makes me stop and think, ‘What could this be about? What does it mean?’ Did you start with the title or did it come to you much later? What does the title make reference to?
Titles only come to me when the book is virtually finished. I find it distracting to think about it before then. The title is both a reference to the sperm and egg, but also relates to notions of artisanship and the false idea that country living (where the novel’s character end up) is perfect.
I’m yet to read the book, but as a thirty something married woman I’m taking notice. Your protagonists are a thirty something couple on a journey. Their marriage is strained, they’re grieving the loss of their unborn child and there are things that they are yet to talk about or can’t. I’m sensing something profound and melancholic in these prose. Can you tell us more?
My primary intention was to write about a troubled marriage over the course of one day, and to explore the gulfs that can exist between people after a traumatic event, where both the banal and the unspoken are unceasingly amplified. It’s about the continuing formation of the adult personality after marriage, and a questioning of values, hopes, and expectations; deep, profound love, but also disappointment, and a state of flux.
Q. What inspired you to write this story?
There’s not one particular event or image that drove the book, more an accumulation and merging of ideas that brewed whilst I was writing a slew of short stories: everything from a dank morning sitting in the park, to a dinner party, to reading Paula Fox and J.L Carr. Many things.
Q. What were you hoping to highlight about the fragility of relationships and culture, the differences between man and woman, when you were going through the creative process?
It’s a novel about fragility, difference, fear, rage, and love. So if any of those preoccupations have bled onto the page I’ll be very happy.
Q. What was the writing process like and how was it different to your earlier works?
I write by hand, so it’s a slow process, slower than with the other two books (which also started longhand, but moved onto a typewriter than laptop). Writing so many short stories between Graffiti My Soul and Black Bread changed how I wrote, namely that I wasn’t in such a rush to finish. I seemed to spend more time thinking than writing, which in mind is how it should be.
Q. Black Bread White Beer is published digitally only. What excites you about the digital future of the book and how do you think as authors, we can ensure our stories remain relevant? Will we see it in paperback soon?
The best thing about the digital publishing model is that there are no rules. Also, the speed with which things are done is brilliant. It seems far more fluid than print publishing, which seems to work for this particular book. Hopefully there’ll be a print edition next year. Re: the relevance of authors, I never think about how my work may be perceived. I have no interest in being part of a ‘trend’. The concept of trends and being relevant is like death to me. All I’m concerned with is writing the best book I possibly can at that particular time. If you care about writing well, it’s all you can do.
Q. What do you think of the kindle? Do you own one?
No different to having an iPod, which I can’t live without. For me, the book as beautiful, physical object is everything. I’m a bibliophile, everything from the paper weight to fonts excite me. At the same time, the ability to download whatever book you want to read at any time is a great one.
Q. Your Tumblr site is beautiful. I love the way you’ve incorporated images that seem to capture so much, and the captions that succinctly convey the mood. What were you hoping to do with the site and do you think it will help to reach new and wider audiences for your work?
Thank you. The tumblr site started because I wanted an online space for the book, but didn’t want to do anything boring. Ultimately the aim of the space is to curate found images, objects, sounds, and songs that relate to the book but take on a parallel narrative beyond it. I want it to feel like a catalogues of voices and experience from various characters that enriches that actual book but works on its own level.
Q. Do you think technology hinders or helps the creative process? How do you tap into writing exactly what you want, without the fluff getting in the way?
It all depends on how you work. I’m happy writing by hand, so can quite easily without distraction.
Q. Why do you think it’s becoming increasingly difficult to communicate our true and honest feelings in our most intimate relationships, when we share so much about ourselves via social media, with strangers?
Social media has redefined what we used to consider private, and with the lines increasingly blurred, it’s easy to see how some can confuse false intimacy with the real thing. The interesting thing about Claud and Amal is that they don’t hide behind social media to talk to each other. Instead, technology is used as a comfort blanket, almost, with their mobile phones acting as their confessors when they talk secretly to friends about what has happened.
Q. What are your plans for the rest of the year? Are you working on another story? Where can we see or hear more about you?
No short stories from me for a while, as I’m busy working on a new novel. Early stages, so no idea when it will be finished. Will be reading from Black Bread White Beer at various events in London throughout autumn, including: Literary Death Match Sept 19, The Book Stops Here October 8th, and the South Asian Literary Festival 1st week of Nov.
Niven Govinden is the author of novels “Black Bread White Beer”, “Graffiti My Soul”, and “We Are The New Romantics”. His stories have appeared in Five Dials, Time Out, First City, Pen Pusher, BUTT, and on Radio 3. He was shortlisted for the 2011 Bristol Prize.
Find out more at http://www.black-bread.tumblr.com