Thank you, Sam, for your time and for sharing a bit about yourself & your writing journey.
Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Dark, and much more frequently than I probably should.
Coffee or Tea? Tea (I’m predictably British).
Dog-ear or whatever else as bookmark? Dog-ear.
I’m sorry, Sam, this is totally a deal-breaker!!! :O
Plot or Character? Character – they best stories come from people and their desires and conflicts.
HEA or unexpected twist? Unexpected twist, though hopefully with a sprinkle of happiness!
Q: Could you please share with us a little bit about yourself and what it is that fascinates you about history?
A: I’m a British poet and novelist, and I teach creative writing and literature to university students. I’m also a single parent, so when I get small pockets of free time, I enjoy escaping into the past. I read a lot of history, as it’s really interesting to me how people lived, what they believed, what they had to cope with. My belief is that people have the same desires and longings and hopes no matter where or when they live, but what is interesting is the challenges they face based on the time and place they are trapped in.
Q: Your 3 novels so far have been historical fiction (2 being set in China). Was that a conscious decision on your part (your love for history naturally translate into historical fiction) or were there other factors in play?
A: Yes, it was definitely a conscious decision. I studied History and English Literature at university, and I’ve always been fascinated by different times and different cultures. I like to think of myself as a part-time time-traveller (books, after all, are the best time machines that we have). When I went to China after university, one of the first things I started doing was reading up on its history. When something interests me, I have a longing to share it, and that’s been the starting point of all my books: bringing the past back to life to share with others.
Q: I don’t know much about famous paintings though this Doctor Gachet looks vaguely familiar. How did it actually come to your attention? So much so that you’re inspired to write about it?
A: I first read about the painting in an article listing some of the most expensive artworks ever sold. It was the only one of those to have disappeared. That grabbed my interest, and I started reading up on it. There was something about the sad look on his face that intrigued me. There are hundreds of books about Van Gogh, but I was amazed to find that there are so few about the people in his paintings. Soon I was researching the painting a lot in my free time, and I knew I had to share his strange and fascinating story.
Q: I found the structure of this novel to be very interesting. The alternate chapters between Doctor Gachet himself with journeys of the painting and narrator. Is this narrator yourself? How did you come to structure the novel in such a way?
A: What I wanted was to show not only the life of this person and the painting, but also the afterlife. Part of that meant following the journey of the painting from owner to owner, from Nazi Germany to New York and on to its mysterious disappearance in Japan. But it also meant trying to trace the effect of the painting in the people who see it. I wanted to illustrate how works of art, or books, or songs, or movies, can take on a special relevance and meaning in a person’s life, and I decided it would be easiest to do that in the first person through my own experiences. I also hoped that structuring the novel in this way would help readers see the painting from many different perspectives (the history of the man in the painting, the journey of the painting, the effect of the painting), just like how in a gallery we might move around an artwork and look at it from different angles and in different ways.
Q: I don’t think this is a spoiler but there is one particular chapter which I was very surprised by. Near the end, you’ve inserted a chapter set in the far future. What prompted you to write this chapter?
A: For me, the act of writing a book is an adventure. No matter how much research I’ve done (especially to get all the history right), there is something exciting about veering off into unexpected places. I decided early on that it would be a novel – full of emotion, drama, conflict – rather than a biography, and so I wanted to show the importance of the painting not only through its past history but also in its possible futures. When we talk about our lives, we’re not only thinking of the things we’ve done in the past, but all our potential and all the things we might do in the future, and so I wanted to dramatize that with that chapter.
Q: What are your top reads for 2019 to date? And which book are you desperately waiting for publication?
A: So far this year I’ve really enjoyed The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, which is an intriguing time-slip mystery about a man reliving a day again and again in different bodies, and Educated by Tara Westover, an extraordinary memoir about learning and change. I’m really looking forward to The Parade, by Dave Eggers, as his books are always both meticulously crafted and full of interesting ideas about the way we live now.
Q: What are you working on now? Or what can we look for from you next?
A: I’m working on a mystery set in Cambridge called ‘The Vanishing Light’, about the way the past echoes and repeats in the present.
About the author
Sam Meekings grew up near the south coast of England. He took an undergraduate degree in Modern History and English Literature at Mansfield College, Oxford University and, later, a Masters degree in Creative Writing at Edinburgh University. In 2005 he moved to China where he worked as a teacher and editor. He recently moved to Qatar with his wife and family to take up a post as Lecturer in poetry and creative writing at Qatar University. In 2006 and 2007 Sam was longlisted for an Eric Gregory Award for poets under 30.