Lavie Tidhar is the author of the BSFA Award nominated Osama, which has been compared to Philip K. Dick’s seminal work, The Man in the High Castle by both the Guardian and the Financial Times. He is also the author of the Bookman Histories novels, comprising The Bookman, Camera Obscura and The Great Game, and of many other novellas and short stories.
SF Signal had the opportunity to talk to Lavie about his remarkable new picture book Going to the Moon (reviewed here)…
Charles Tan: Hi. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. For readers unfamiliar with Going to the Moon, could you explain what it’s about?
Lavie Tidhar: Going to the Moon is a picture book collaboration with artist Paul McCaffery, about a boy with Tourette’s Syndrome (specifically with coprolalia) who wants to become an astronaut. It’s about bullying, and about language and how some words become bad words and what you do when you can’t control the language.
Or I could just say it’s a picture book with swearing!
CT: What made you decide to write a picture book?
LT: This book’s had an odd genesis. My wife was working for a charity helping the families of sexually abused children, and she was trying to put together a library the children could borrow books from. She was in touch with a lot of publishers, who were all, uniformly, brilliant in donating books. Some of them specialised in books dealing with very specific, vary harrowing things – everything from death to abuse, basically. I remember reading this entire catalogue of specialised books and I kind of said, ‘I wonder why there isn’t one about Tourette’s,’ and then thought, well, if you factor coprolalia into it (the rare form of Tourette’s that produces uncontrollable swearing) then obviously you can’t do it for kids…and then I thought, well, why not?
I must have written the initial text in one go – I remember being quite surprised at how it came out, which wasn’t at all what I was expecting! And then, of course, I simply put it away – what the hell was I going to actually do with it, you know?
And then came Murky Depths…
CT: How did Murky Depths end up publishing Going to the Moon?
LT: Murky Depths really got me into writing comics – Terry Martin was so encouraging and supportive, and it’s been amazing exploring this new way of telling stories. Anyway we were exchanging e-mails and I mentioned Going To The Moon – in a sort of, “I have this thing sitting on the hard drive no one would touch in a million years…” – and Terry really liked it! I think he’s mad, personally…
CT: How did you end up collaborating with Paul McCaffery? When you were writing the book, did you know he would be illustrating it?
LT: Terry put us together. It took a long time to find the right artist, if I remember rightly. But once the connection was made, it was obvious he was the perfect person for it. I love his artwork, and he gives the book this wonderful slightly-off sense – it’s innocent, and charming, and really emotive, I think, and that weird physical perspective of the characters really works. I guess I’m just a fan!
CT: What was the collaboration process like?
LT: To begin with, I had to do sort of word-sketches for each page of illustration. I had to take the original text and really clarify how it was meant to be split into pages, and opposite each page of text I had to write down notes for Paul, on how I envision the page to be, what should be in it and so on. So in a way it was a little like writing comics, only you’re not writing panels, you’re writing full page illustrations. Then Paul went away and then the pages would start coming in, and then, in a few cases, we’d have back and forth on them, what worked and what didn’t. So sometimes the first illustration was spot on, at other times we went through several tries to get to the one we were most happy with.
CT: What was the most difficult aspect about writing the book?
LT: The whole thing was a challenge – in the best possible way! I think the hardest thing though was having patience – we all knew this was a long-term project, it’s literally taken years from conception to actualization – I think I’m actually still in a bit of shock that it’s real and physical and in my hands.
CT: Are you going to do more picture books in the future?
LT: I hope so, certainly! I’m doing a small graphic novel with Murky Depths next – a really bizarre thing called Adolf Hitler’s “I Dream of Ants” – a collaboration with artist Neil Struthers. It’s about a guy called Adolf Hitler who becomes convinced his house is being overrun by ants, and tries to destroy them. It’s…a very odd thing.
The next picture book, I’ve been talking to an Israeli artist recently on doing, it’s called It’s Hard to be a Filipino in Hebrew and it’s about a Filipino boy growing up in Israel, with all that that entails. I really like this one (though again, it’s hardly your conventional children’s book). I hope it gets made.
CT: What other projects are you currently working on?
LT: At the moment I’m desperately trying to finish too many uncompleted projects – that includes about 4-5 novels and a screenplay. I’d like to write a graphic novel this year, too…in terms of what’s coming out, The Apex Book of World SF 2, which I edited, will be released around April, and my guns & sorcery collection Black Gods Kiss should also be out sometime this year. And my novel The Great Game is out now.