AUTHOR INTERVIEWS

  • Christopher Edge

    Christopher Edge

    THE LONGEST NIGHT OF CHARLIE NOON

    NOSY CROW

    JUNE 2019


    Author CHRISTOPHER EDGE is well known for intriguing adventures (The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day, The Jamie Drake Equation) that explore the nature of our universe, and in his latest book, THE LONGEST NIGHT OF CHARLIE NOON, Christopher Edge turns his attention to questions about time.

    Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny are determined to find out what lies in the woods near their home - a monster, a spy or some other mystery? But when night falls they realise they are lost, they can't find a way out of the woods and things start to happen that they can't explain. Will solving the mystery of the woods help them to escape?

    We asked author CHRISTOPHER EDGE to tell us more about THE LONGEST NIGHT OF CHARLIE NOON:


    Q: How did you develop the three children you wanted to focus on in this novel - Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny?

    A: The story is Charlie's story, but I wanted to explore friendship in this novel too. After writing the first draft of the story, I was immersing myself in nature writing and in particular, the work of Denys Watkins-Pitchford, an author, illustrator and naturalist who wrote under the pen name 'BB'.

    I read his novel Brendon Chase which was first published 75 years ago in 1944 and tells the story of three children who run away from home to spend an entire summer in the woods, and realised that in many ways The Longest Night of Charlie Noon had strange echoes of this story, even though Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny only spend a single night in the woods; in many ways this night for them lasts a lifetime.

    As characters, Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny are more diverse than the three brothers in Brendon Chase, and their relationships with each other perhaps more complex too, but what's universal to both novels is the way that nature shapes these children's view of the world and I think this is an important theme now more than ever.


    Q: Why did you decide to give each of the characters a difficult home life?

    A: Sometimes childhood can be romanticised as a golden time filled with carefree days climbing trees, but for many children their home lives can be troubled or chaotic and I wanted to reflect this reality in the novel.

    As a child in that situation you have no frame of reference, this is normality and combined with the powerlessness you so often feel as a child, this can sometimes make you feel as if there's no escape from the troubled situation that you're in. What I wanted to show in The Longest Night of Charlie Noon is that there is a way through the woods.


    Q: The novel explores bullying, and remorse, through Johnny; why do you give him the chance to redeem himself?

    A: It's very easy, especially nowadays it seems in the age of social media, for people to be characterised for a single action or thought and for this to then define them completely. However our lives are long and a mistake we make one day can be redeemed the next and I wanted to show this.

    Without the chance of redemption, why would anyone change and the fact that we can change is an important theme in the novel. As Charlie reflects in the book, "Everything changes. And that means we can too."


    Q: Your books cover 'big questions' in science for children - do you need to plan them in detail?

    A: There's always a lot of research that goes into my novels from researching theories of parallel universes for The Many Worlds of Albie Bright to wrapping my brain around questions of infinity in The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day.

    This research is important to me as as I like the fiction I write to be grounded in fact as I think this adds to the story's verisimilitude.


    Q: Why did you decide to look at the nature of time in this book?

    A: It wasn't so much that I decided to look at the nature of time in this novel, but more that questions about time emerged from the story I wanted to tell in The Longest Night of Charlie Noon. My novels always begin with a character and it's understanding this character's journey that helps guide the research I need to do before I start writing.


    Q: Where did you go for your research, and what for you is time's biggest 'wow' factor?

    A: One of the things I enjoyed most about writing The Longest Night of Charlie Noon is that the research for this novel took me from reading about cutting-edge theories of time in books like Carlo Rovelli's The Order of Time to reading T. S. Eliot's poetry, plays by J. B. Priestley and essays and memoirs from writers such as Alan Garner and Penelope Lively.

    Time is a source of endless fascination in literature, and what I wanted to do in The Longest Night of Charlie Noon is tell a story about now. That for me is time's biggest 'wow' factor - it's always now.


    Q: Is that why you chose to write the narrative in the first person, with Charlie as the narrator?

    A: We experience the world as an ever-unfolding now, so that's why I chose to write The Longest Night of Charlie Noon in the first-person present tense. It would have been impossible to tell the story I wanted to tell in any other way.

    I hope when readers get to the end of the novel that they see how everything fits together and might then be tempted to re-read to find the clues that are there on the page. I wanted to write a book that rewards re-reading and I hope there will be details that take on new meaning on a second, third or even fourth reading.


    Q: What were the challenges in writing a narrative - which would usually be linear - to explore time, which isn't?

    A: Well, this is the thing - for us time is linear. That's how we experience it - like a river constantly flowing into the future one moment at a time. It's only when I started to investigate different theories of time that I discovered that many scientific theories of time jar with our everyday experience of it.

    Time isn't fundamental to the equations that describe how the universe works, so this has led some scientists to argue that time doesn't actually exist! Fiction in a way reflects how time works in our heads, with flashbacks reproducing memories and a constant sense of anticipation or fear as we turn the pages of the story of our lives, and it might be that our experience of time is the fiction...


    Q: Why is the Epilogue so important to the novel, and why did you decide to include it?

    A: This is something that films sometimes do, captions appearing on screen that reveal what the characters do next before the end credits roll.

    I wanted to show the full truth of these characters lives and the ways in which they shaped the future. There are details included in the epilogue which might shed a new light on events and details from the story itself, so I wanted to give readers this opportunity to make these connections.


    Q: What would you like the reader to take from the novel?

    A: That we shape the future with every action that we take. I've got faith that they're the generation that are going to face up to the challenges all around us in these present times and that they'll change the world for the better.


    Q: What is the best question you've been asked by a child?

    A: I don't know if it's the books that I write, but I seem to get asked lots of mind-boggling questions by the young readers that I meet. One of my favourites was one that I was asked at the Hay Festival last year when a child asked if they could just be someone else's dream.


    Q: When and where do you write?

    A: Like a cut-price Roald Dahl, I've got an office at the bottom of my garden where I write my books, but the truth is I write anywhere or anytime that I can. This could mean scribbling down a few pages on a long train journey, or just writing a single line on a post-it note beside my bed before I go to sleep at night. I always write the first draft longhand in a notebook as typing this up onto a computer then becomes a second draft stage with me revising the work as I go.


    Q: What would your dream 'writer's shed' look like, and where would it be?

    A: I think it's the one I'm in now, especially as it's just got a fresh lick of paint. Although it might be nice to move it to a secluded Greek island for the summer...


    Q: What are you writing now?

    A: To be completely accurate, I'd have to say this sentence! However, there's another story currently taking shape in my notebook that I'm very excited to tell.




    THE INFINITE LIVES OF MAISIE DAY

    NOSY CROW

    APRIL 2018


    CHRISTOPHER EDGE's earlier novels The Jamie Drake Equation and The Many Worlds of Albie Bright explore families, relationships and the problems they sometimes face through big questions about science and the universe. No subject, from quantum science and parallel universes to space and cosmonauts, seems to be too big and his latest novel THE INFINITE LIVES OF MAISIE DAY probes just as deeply into these kinds of questions.

    In THE INFINITE LIVES OF MAISIE DAY, Maisie wakes up on her tenth birthday to discover something has gone terribly wrong. She is on her own in her family home and the world outside the house has disappeared. The story is told in twin narratives, following Maisie as she tries to fathom the strange world in which she finds herself, and the Maisie who is surrounded by family on her tenth birthday. We learn how incredibly gifted Maisie is but also the strain this has put on her relationship with her 15-year-old sister. As the two start to reach out to each other on Maisie's birthday, a terrible accident draws them closer but also invites questions around who we are and the nature of life.

    We asked author CHRISTOPHER EDGE to tell us more about THE INFINITE LIVES OF MAISIE DAY.


    Q: You trained as a teacher so what took you into writing?

    A: I was misguidedly directed into teaching after watching the film The Dead Poets' Society. I taught at a comprehensive school in Sheffield but it wasn't really for me. I started working at the University of Cambridge for testing in exams, then joined New Longman Literature where I was looking for children's fiction that I thought would work in the classroom.

    Reading so much children's fiction connected me with children's books and showed me what wonderful children's literature was being written. I had wanted to be a writer when I was growing up so I started writing but it wasn't until I wrote my third book that I got an agent and then a publisher, so it was a long road to having my first book published.


    Q: The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day is the third book you've written that explores the big questions that our scientists are trying to answer. What draws you to these subjects?

    A: When I'm writing it's all about the ideas in the story and the characters, rather than the science. However, with The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, I had been reading Paul Parson's How to Destroy the Universe: And 34 other really interesting uses of physics where some scientists describe cancer as a 'quantum illness' because you start with one cell that replicates and they compare it with the ideas around Schrodinger's Cat. At the same time, I was exploring the world of Albie, who wants to find his mum. Science gives you a way in; it attempts to deal with big questions of life and going down that path with Albie, it gave me lots of different sparks to follow.

    It has become a little bit of a niche of mine and The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day is possibly the most science-based of the books I have done; someone said it reminded them of Sophie's World - which explores ideas around philosophy - but for science.

    I think both science and books try to explain and help us understand the world so it seems logical to take inspiration from these ideas and use them to inspire stories.


    Q: What sparked the ideas you explore in The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day?

    A: I had an image of a girl opening a door and looking out into darkness, so this was how the book started. I had been reading
    Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality by Max Tegmark, which explores how science has tried to make sense of reality, starting with the idea of the atom in the time of the Ancient Greeks and then getting smaller and smaller as we've progressed those ideas.

    When you get down to it, reality can be described as numbers, or some have speculated that the life you're living could be a simulation. We're using the Hubble Space Telescope to look at the far depths of the universe and black space and you're almost going back to Plato's shadow on the wall, where what we are seeing could simply be an image shown from somewhere else.

    We have always been interested in the idea of what is real. In this book, Maisie wakes up in her own house but there is infinite darkness outside. So my question is, what do we really know about reality as against what we want to see? Television presenter Brian Cox says that if you think about the history of the universe in its totality, we are just a blink of an eye - but in that blink of an eye, I think what gives our lives meaning is our relationships with other people. This moment we have is precious and we need to embrace it, and hopefully it will remind people of the importance of love in its fullest sense. That's what is driving my writing.


    Q: Why do you give your characters such big challenges, including loss and death?

    A: The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day starts with big questions of life and science which help to explore the human elements of grief and loss in our own lives. I had moments in my childhood when life wasn't perfect and sometimes in my stories it's about those times in one's life as a child when you go through moments of change or loss or moments when what you think is happiness turns out not to be so, so we question reality and science helps to explore that. I am trying to answer the same questions as the scientist but coming at it from a different angle.


    Q: In one of your possible parallel lives, would you be a scientist?

    A: Maybe there's a parallel universe where I would have been interested in exploring those questions but I'm not sure if I have the mind to do it. I am more of a magpie, taking these ideas and using them to write. I'm fascinated in the idea of taking two years to explore a concept but I'm not sure that my grade D in maths would be up to it.


    Q: As a writer you introduce children to big ideas about science; do you think they should learn more about these in class?

    A: I do remember my science lessons at school being boring with dull experiments that never worked and yet the really big ideas about science excite children. I go into schools and speak to primary aged children about quantum physics and they grab those ideas and run with them, while adults might struggle with them. If I could I would turn the curriculum on its head and start with quantum physics and the Big Bang and how time came into existence and let them do the boring stuff at university.


    Q: Maisie Day's story alternates between two versions of Maisie's reality; why did you decide to structure it like this?

    A: That was the key to unlocking the book for me as a writer. I had started with this image of Maisie alone in her home and with this darkness outside, and that's how chapter one starts. But the question in my head was, why would anyone care about Maisie? So I decided to explore her story through two narratives. She wakes up on the morning of her birthday surrounded by darkness where we can explore ideas of black holes and space, but run this in parallel with her alternate tenth birthday celebrations. As the reader gets to know Maisie, they care for her. I couldn't achieve that with flash backs, I needed the twin narratives and I switch from one to the other as I wrote the book, I enjoyed writing it like that; one door closes on one universe and opens on another. On a technical level, it's the book I'm most proud of having written.


    Q: Why did you decide your main character would be a girl rather than a boy in this story?

    A: Since I've been writing books, I have noticed in the outside world that people have been trying to put my books into gendered boxes; when I wrote Twelves Minutes to Midnight people said these were books for girls but they aren't, they are just stories for anyone. When I wrote The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and The Jamie Drake Equation, the characters came into my mind as boys and Maisie came as a girl. I like the idea of the children I meet at school discovering this girl who is fizzing with ideas about space and time and the universe. My stories are for everyone but it's nice for those girls to see themselves reflected in this particular glass; they are the next generation of scientist and astronauts.

    We are living in an age where science and when experts are looked down on and yet we are facing all sorts of problems like global warming and lots of other challenges. The world we are leaving for the next generation isn't necessarily the world I want my children growing up in. We need scientists and people with open minds and love and hope in their hearts. After seeing the teenagers in the US marching for gun control, I almost want my generation to say, get off the stage now, leave it to the next generation.