What was the spark for this story?
I was writing a set of “tales of the biotech revolution,” many of which assumed that if everyone were going to live for a very long time, raising children would have to become a relatively rare endeavour collectively undertaken by groups of adults considerably larger than the traditional two. This was one of the spinoff items in which I tried to envisage alternative scenarios—in this one, artificially extended parenthood.
How did this story evolve from first draft to final version?
The notion of children who remain children permanently inevitably called up the idea of Peter Pan, who inevitably invoked the phantom of the Great God Pan and his seductive pipes. The name Wendy followed automatically (as did the punch line) and once having sketched the initial predicament and introduced the initiating factor of the epidemic of “progeria,” it was just a matter of following the logic of the situation to the end. The second draft only involved a certain amount of tidying up, no significant alterations.
You’ve done a lot of writing about science fiction—what fascinates you most these days/would make for a good topic for a new book?
I’m presently working on an account of the evolution of French roman scientifique [scientific fiction] from Cyrano de Bergerac to the aftermath of the Great War, partly because I’m fascinated by evolutionary processes and partly because I’m very interested in the manner in which different cultural contexts influence them—hence an analysis of the differences between the patterns of evolution in France, Britain, and America.
Whose work has been the most unsettling for you to read?
The most unsettling novel I’ve ever translated (translators get a much more visceral appreciation of texts than casual readers) was The Mutilated Bacchus by André Arnyvelde, which the author began in 1914 in an optimistic mood, mapping out his hero’s attempt to transform a French village into a mini-utopia by means of new technologies and a philosophy of the will to joy, but had to set aside when drafted into the Great War; when he returned to it in 1919 after four years in the trenches, he was in a very different frame of mind, and meticulously devastated all of his own pre-war hopes by subjecting his characters to fates far worse than death; rendering it into English made me feel physically sick and I was deeply upset for days. A work of sheer perverse genius; its publisher described it as “unreadable”; everyone ought to read it.
Any new projects you want to tell us about?
I’ve just finished a novel called Eurydice’s Lament, the fourth item in a series whose previous items were collected in a volume entitled The Wayward Muse. It’s set in an artists’ colony on an island off the coast of France, in an alternate world in which the Roman Empire, organized by an unassassinated Julius Caesar, never collapsed. It features the rediscovery of the suspiric language and the final revelation of the truth behind the myth of Orpheus. I now only have twenty-one more novels to write in order to bring my career total up to a round 100, and hope to complete the set by July 2018, when I turn seventy (if I live that long).
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