Thursday, 2 April 2015

4 Questions for Bridget van der Zijpp

Bridget van der Zijpp's second novel, In the Neighbourhood of Fame, will be launched on Wednesday 8 April in Auckland (6.30pm at Portland Public House, Kingsland).

Ahead of her launch we asked her a few questions about her new book.

Bridget van der Zijpp (photo by Jessie Casson)

Your new novel is about fame: the dark side, the trappings, the way in which a famous person becomes public property – what made you want to explore these ideas?
When I first started thinking about this book (a while back) there was a spate of cases with celebrities being accused of various misdemeanours.  Controversially they all received name suppression but there was a lot of gossip about, and there were quite strenuous efforts by some people to find ways to expose them.  I found that rather large and gleeful appetite for the celebrity downfall interesting.  It made me start to think about what it would be like to be the celebrity who has the tide of popularity turn against them.
Also, in the past I’ve worked both within the media and as a publicist, and so I think I’m drawn to ideas about how individuals attract and sometimes manipulate forms of media attention.  And how fame impacts on a person’s sense of self. 
It seems like a lot of people these days want fame, but when it happens it can be a shock and there is definitely a downside to it.  It takes a certain kind of courage to put something out into the public realm –  whether it’s an album of songs, a book, a film, a play, or a performance – and while there are obviously rewards, you also open yourself up to discourse and criticism and it can feel very personal and destructive.   In the book the musician Jed Jordan’s second album has bombed, and he says: “If you do something that you think is really good, and most people don’t get it, then who are you really? Somebody who just happens to be out of step with the world at that moment?  Or is your taste off?  And if you can’t work your head around an answer to that question then it gets harder.”
It is also concerned with rumour over fact, social media replacing reporting and the way in which social media confuses or creates its own reality – is this something you’d been thinking about for a while?
Social media is the contemporary instrument of fame.  It’s evolving very rapidly, changing a lot even in the time I’ve been working on this, and while it offers many new avenues for awareness, it also increases the risk of harm too. 
While personally I’m more a lurker than a participant, I’ve noticed there often seems to be a view in that arena that because celebrities put themselves out there, seeking the limelight, then its open slather on them.  At least in the traditional media there tends to be a general restraint because they are more aware of defamation and damages, but in social media a lot of what is said is unguarded and highly emotive.  Regulation isn’t easy, and truth doesn’t matter half as much as the fun of the take-down.
Fame is actually a bit of an uncontrollable beast, and then there is the matter of the so-called Trolls or as they are described in the book “the puerile imbeciles who are waiting, like a row of nasty gulls on a power line, for something to draw their notice.”
A number of voices tell the story. Did you use the multi-voice narrative as a way to explore the different angles of entry to the story? All the characters have a different version of reality don’t they?
The story in In the Neighbourhood of Fame is essentially about the musician Jed Jordan (who could best be described as once-famous), but he is never heard from directly, only seen through the eyes of three different narrators.  Evie, his childhood friend who recently returned to the neighbourhood with her son, and can’t shake off a sense of admiration for him that started when she was a teenager; Lauren, his wife, who manages a local theatre and is bored with him now, and looking for distractions;  and 15 year old Haley who casually meets him in the dog park and becomes slightly fascinated with him.
Sometimes he is almost a periphery character in their daily lives, but it’s more about how they see him, and how they experience his “fame”, and how they unwittingly impact on it.
In choosing to do this I was playing around with the idea that fame is not really something that you possess yourself, it’s always placed upon you by others, and people come to somebody else’s fame through their own slant. 
There are a number of broken/dysfunctional relationships in the book – between partners, and between parents and their children – a lot of people talking past each other, which seems a continuation of some of the relationships in your first novel Misconduct – is this a theme/idea you feel drawn to as a writer?
I guess the partners, parents and children are the ‘Neighbourhood’ part of the story.
I don’t think I realised there was any similar underlying theme in the two books until I’d almost finished this one.  If there is one, it’s possibly about how much you might forgive a person’s dysfunction if you admire their talent.  The truly creative people I’ve known are often dreamy, and a bit removed, jealous of their time and space, and alternatively inspired and insecure.  Hard to live with, basically.  But if they make some form of incredible art is that so seducing that you can forgive some of their failings?  I think I’m personally quite interested in where that line is.
Also I think that in general I am drawn as a writer to what goes on in the underbelly of relationships – where people don’t quite know themselves, and can’t quite say what they mean.
In the Neighbourhood of Fame is available from our online bookstore and in all good bookstores nationwide from 9 April.
$30, p/b.

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