Eddie Robson is a British comedy and science fiction writer best known for his sitcom Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully and his work on a variety of spin-offs from the BBC Television series Doctor Who. He has written books, comics, short stories, and for television and theatre, and has worked as a freelance journalist for various science fiction magazines. Eddie is the author of Hearts of Oak. Drunk on All Your Strange New Words is his new novel and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for Drunk on All Your Strange New Words?
It was my last cinema trip before the first covid lockdown in the UK, and I was seeing Parasite, which had a Q&A with the director and one of the stars, and there was someone translating from Korean. That set me thinking about whether technology would overtake that job—when I went to Kyoto in 2018 I stayed in a place where the host spoke into Google Translate when he didn’t know the English word for something, and I figured that tech was only going to improve. So that made me think, what if there was an alien species where the tech didn’t work? That quickly led me on to telepathy, and pretty much everything else about the idea came together pretty quickly.
Are Lydia, Fitz, Madison, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?
Not at all, actually. I saw a positive review for the book yesterday which said Lydia was “hard to like at times”, which is funny because all her neuroses, insecurities and petty thoughts come from me, really. How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version? I don’t think any characters were lost, no. I submitted it as a sample of 10,000 words and an outline, and I mostly stuck to the outline: I work a lot as a scriptwriter, and you pretty much always work from an outline there, they want to know what you’re doing before you start. I tweaked the end of the book a bit to fit what had come before—there was a character who originally wasn’t going to appear again, and I suddenly realised I had the perfect place to bring them back and play a crucial part in the end! The biggest challenge was laying the trail of breadcrumbs for Lydia—I didn’t want her to solve the mystery too easily, not least because she’s an amateur: it needed to feel like a challenge. So I was keen for some of her leads to not work out at first—I think everything ends up being relevant, or leading somewhere relevant, and if it doesn’t, it tells you something about the world of the novel. But there was a part in the middle that was tricky to write—how do you lead your character onto the path to the truth without them finding it straight away?
Do you have driving skills on the same par as Lydia? If not, do you wish you did? If so, where is the place you wish you could go for a “ride” like Lydia’s through Manhattan?
Not in the slightest! I’m quite an anxious driver, and much prefer public transport. I hired a car on my last trip to America, which involved driving through Chicago, and I hated it. But there is something appealing about the idea of having those skills and that confidence. It’d be fun to drive through San Francisco like Steve McQueen in Bullitt.
Did your brother teach you to drive or did you learn from someone else?
No, I don’t have a brother—I didn’t learn to drive until I was nearly 30, and only then because my wife and I had our first child and realised it’d make life much easier if one of us could drive. Most places in the UK you can get by perfectly well without driving, and I prefer not to. Actually, that’s one of the things I like about New York City—it’s squeezed into a relatively small area and developed before the invention of the car, so it’s very walkable, more like a European city. I get a bit bamboozled by cities you can’t walk. Nashville really threw me for a loop when I went there.
If you could communicate telepathically, the way Lydia is able to with Fitz and Madison, would you want to have that ability?
Yeah—I wouldn’t want to be able to read people’s minds without them knowing, that’d be horrible, or for people to read mine. But to be able to communicate silently when you wanted to, that’d be cool.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
A lot of books I’ve been meaning to read, some of which I’m partway through. A Fozzie Bear mug filled with badges. A radio-alarm. An Elvis snowglobe I bought at Graceland, which is very gradually losing water. And some Lego figures.
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
I tend to go through phases with authors where I read lots of their stuff and then move on to someone else. But maybe I’d say Douglas Adams, Angela Carter, Douglas Coupland, Philip K Dick...recently I just want to write like Ali Smith, her prose is so vivid and funny.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
No, never. I didn’t really read anything rebellious or unsuitable, and I don’t think they’d have objected even if I had!
Is there a book you’ve faked reading?
Lots of times when I was studying English Literature, but only because I was meant to have read them. I have also gone back and read some of them in later years, because I feel bad about having been so lax about it now. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Wuthering Heights.
Can you name a book you’ve bought for the cover?
Is there a book that changed your life?
Roald Dahl’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar has a framing sequence where someone finds the narrative of Henry Sugar in an exercise book in a library and that just blew my mind in several ways, I was like seven years old and had no idea you could write like that, have a story WITHIN the story. I think if any book seeded the idea of becoming a writer it was that one.
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
I don’t really like being told I should read things, so I wouldn’t do the same to anyone else. However, I did tell quite a few people to read Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, because it’s very short and extremely insightful.
Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
I rarely find time to reread anything, so if I read a book I love again, it feels like the first time. But maybe Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve, because I was so struck by how audacious it was the first time.
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional artforms) that you’ve experienced or that has impacted you?
I bought Sharon Van Etten’s new album We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong last week and it’s excellent.
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
I’d get to interview Paul McCartney and ask him all the questions he never usually gets asked. And then go to a gig in the evening, where he’d play "She’s A Woman", "You Won’t See Me", "Eleanor Rigby" and the whole of Back to the Egg in order.
What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?
“Can we make a film or TV series out of your book, and would you like to write the script?” My answer would be yes.
What are you working on now?
I’m really hoping to write another SF novel soon, but at the moment I’m working on a novel about an unsuccessful electro band who get an unexpected shot at the big time. It’s kind of a rom-com, no SF or fantasy elements. I’m writing that in between doing some preschool animation scripts. I don’t have a publisher for that novel yet, so if anyone likes the sound of it, get in touch.