Risingshadow has an opportunity to feature a Q&A with Oliver Langmead. This Q&A is part of the Birds of Paradise blog tour.
About Oliver Langmead:
Oliver K. Langmead is an author and poet based in Glasgow. His long-form poem, Dark Star, featured in the Guardian’s Best Books of 2015. Oliver is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow, where he is researching terraforming and ecological philosophy, and in late 2018 he undertook a writing residency at the European Space Agency’s Astronaut Centre in Cologne, writing about astronauts and people who work with astronauts. He tweets @oliverklangmead.
About Birds of Paradise:
Many millennia after the fall of Eden, Adam, the first man in creation, still walks the Earth – exhausted by the endless death and destruction, he is a shadow of his former hope and glory. And he is not the only one. The Garden was deconstructed, its pieces scattered across the world and its inhabitants condemned to live out immortal lives, hiding in plain sight from generations of mankind.
But now pieces of the Garden are turning up on the Earth. After centuries of loneliness, Adam, haunted by the golden time at the beginning of Creation, is determined to save the pieces of his long lost home. With the help of enlisting Eden’s undying exiles, he must stop Eden becoming the plaything of mankind.
Adam journeys across America and the British Isles with Magpie, Owl, and other animals, gathering the scattered pieces of Paradise. As the country floods once more, Adam must risk it all to rescue his friends and his home – because rescuing rebuilding the Garden might be the key to rebuilding his life.
Q&A WITH OLIVER LANGMEAD
1. Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?
Hello! I'm Oliver K. Langmead, but you can call me Ollie.
I write strange speculative fiction across a range of genres, and I have three books published: Dark Star, Metronome, and new out this month: Birds of Paradise. I'm a doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow, where I'm researching terraforming and ecological philosophy, and in late 2018 I was lucky enough to be the writer in residence at the European Space Agency's Astronaut Centre in Cologne.
If you like unusual, experimental and colourful science fiction and fantasy, then I'm sure you'll like my work.
2. How did you become a speculative fiction author?
I think I always have been. My first written stories, back when I was 6 and 7, were swashbuckling adventures, and while the adventures have become more elaborate, and the writing has somewhat improved, not much has changed since then. I grew up on a diet of fantasy authors (Brian Jacques, and Terry Pratchett, and Philip Pullman), and I'm pretty sure that my science fiction feels a lot like fantasy as well.
As for publication – that's a whole different story. I write fairly strange stuff (by which I mean: difficult to market), so I'm very privileged to have found Unsung Stories, a wonderful indie press who loved my long-form science fiction noir poem, Dark Star, enough to give it a go. I think it surpassed everyone's expectations in terms of success (including my own!), as well - which is sincerely lovely.
3. You're the author of Dark Star, Metronome and Birds of Paradise, all of which are beautifully written and compelling yet different kinds of books. How does Birds of Paradise differ from your previous books?
I really envy people who are able to write trilogies and series. It must be wonderful to be able to stay in one world for so long, and create something really rich and epic in it. Meanwhile, I'm busy restlessly hopping from genre to genre, endlessly searching for the next horizon to conquer. I like being taken somewhere new with each book I read, and I suppose that the same can be said for the books I write as well.
Dark Star was science fiction noir, Metronome was a portal quest, and Birds of Paradise is a mythical fantasy. While Dark Star and Metronome were set in other worlds (there), Birds of Paradise is very much set in our own (here). I like to think that all good fiction holds a mirror up to the world – and if that's true, then Birds of Paradise holds its mirror very closely to us.
4. What inspired you to write Birds of Paradise?
Lately, I've been thinking about Climate Catastrophe a lot. It's clear that it's real, and it's also clear that we're not doing enough to prevent it. I wanted to write a book as a means of expressing my frustration with that – and found Eden and its undying inhabitants to be a useful metaphor. Birds of Paradise is a fun book, full of colour and dazzling characters, but it's also a warning. Its antagonists still subscribe to the notion that the world is ours to plunder – that it is our dominion – and while attitudes are slowly changing, we are still acting, as a species, in the same way. We desperately need to begin thinking of ourselves as caretakers instead of kings.
5. What can readers expect from this book?
What if the first man was still alive today? What if, after he was expelled from the garden, the rest of immortal Eden was deconstructed and scattered across the world? What if some of those pieces of paradise ended up in the hands of a group of wealthy pastoral fetishists? How far would Adam be willing to go to regather the remaining fragments of his lost home, and who among Eden’s undying exiles might help him along the way? Birds of Paradise is a book in three heists, and perhaps the most compelling is the cherry tree heist. How would you go about stealing a tree from a central London art gallery?
6. What kind of characters can be found in this book? Is there anything you could reveal about them?
Alongside Adam of Eden, Birds of Paradise features a few of Eden's undying animals, and they were an absolute joy to write. Perhaps my favourite is Magpie, who is a driving force in the book. If pieces of Eden are scattered across the world, then they need somebody to gather them back together, and who better than Eden's own playful bird. I absolutely loved writing him because he simultaneously loves his place in the world, and is deeply cynical of it; his humour gave me leave to poke fun at some of humanity's (and Adam's!) stranger traits.
7. Did you have to do any research during the writing process?
In a way, I did a lot of the research I wanted to do for the book in advance of writing it. I wanted Birds of Paradise to feel as if it existed in our own world – as if its mythical characters were intruding on our everyday lives – and as a part of doing that, I wanted most of the locations I used to be real. A few years ago I was a part of a touring band, and we got to go to a lot of really cool places – up and down the coasts of the USA, and all across Europe and the UK – giving me a fair feeling for a lot of different cities across the world. Capturing the spirits of those cities was important to me, and having clear, vivid memories of each of them helped a great deal.
8. How would you advertise Birds of Paradise to potential readers?
I think that Birds of Paradise is probably my best book, and is likely the best place to start if you're interested at all in my writing. It's been described as American Gods meets The Chronicles of Narnia, and has received praise from brilliant writers like Joanne Harris, Ellen Kushner, and R.J. Barker. The Guardian has called it “fantastic and colourful”, SFX has called it “charming, strange and thought-provoking”, and Publisher's Weekly has called it “meditative and elegant.”
9. Is there anything you'd like to add?
If you're interested in the more academic side of fantasy, then you may want to follow the progress of my new journal, Mapping the Impossible, which is launching this month. We're going to be publishing open-access peer-reviewed research into fantasy and the fantastic, and you can find us here: https://fantasy-research.gla.ac.uk/