I’d like to introduce author Chris Wimpress to Bookish Ardour. Today he is speaking about the inspiration behind his latest release, Weeks in Naviras. You may recognise his name from earlier when Weeks in Naviras was presented in one of BA’s Features.
Chris Wimpress Explains his Novel Weeks in Naviras
This is not a religious novel, not in the strictest sense. But a lot of people won’t get beyond the tenth page, because the main character professes to be dead. That was always a question mark for me; could I write a novel in which I kill every single main character at the start? I chose the Psalm at the beginning after going to a funeral for a good friend in August 2013. ‘We bring our years to a close, as it were a tale that is told.’ It was in my late friend’s order of service. I was close to finishing the novel when he died. Funerals are strange ceremonies, where God gets to interfere but the person involved doesn’t get a say. God gets the last word and I’m not entirely comfortable with that. I miss my friend but I am unhappy with the patriarchy of that Psalm, although I find most psalms utterly ridiculous.
I created characters out of politicians I knew, that I freely admit. Although nobody in the novel has a direct source from a real human, I would agree to the following: being the spouse of a politician is a lonely and fruitless gambit, one where it’s likely you’ll be physically displaced from your partner, definitely and indefinitely.
If you consider all the general pressures on any relationship, how can we expect a political one to be perfect? Yet we do, as though it absolves us from our own failings. The philosopher John Gray suggests politics is a new religion; any prurience towards the prime minister’s wife is surely an extension of that, and it happens all the time.
Yet many politicians have less than stereotypically perfect relationships with their spouses. Many attempt to fabricate a suburban post-war more, sixty years past its sell-by date. Yet this is undermined not just by societal trends (and these matter), but by Westminster itself. The political bubble of obscure working hours, arcane procedures and unspoken but imperative private networks, which work only to alienate the MP from his or her spouse or partner.
The level of detachment will vary based on geography, your progeny and your politics. But as a politician’s partner you will spend inordinate amounts of time on your own, which lends itself to the novel form.
In real life, not every politician is a baddie. Some do their jobs because they genuinely want to change the world for the better. I wish I could say that those who feel like this in politics rise to the top, but it is sadly true that those who succeed crave power for its own sake, more often than not. The networks they form and the alliances they construct often betray their initial good intentions. Over time they become someone else. It is a truism to say that they run the world on expediency, they balk at the challenges the world faces.
My initial inspiration came from holidays in Portugal, and thinking that most of my life felt like a dream. Everyone has a place where they feel okay; for me, for a long time, that place was somewhere in Portugal. The rest of my life felt like a dream, when I was in Portugal I felt awake. For me it has always been a recourse, somewhere I’ve visited often and where I have friends. I’m terrified about how my Portuguese friends will judge ‘Weeks in Naviras’ far more than my London friends, because I feel I’m squatting in their country. Portugal is an old country, it doesn’t feel the need to exert itself any more, after it gave up its colonialism. Britain could learn from that. There is something about the west coast of Portugal, when you stand at the edge of the Atlantic. It goes on forever, and I liked the idea of people in centuries past standing there, thinking the ocean would go on forever.
When I started writing ‘Weeks in Naviras’ the characters were not senior politicians, that came later. Initially it was a novel involving teenage backpackers.
Writers don’t always have answers, and this novel is me asking several questions out loud; why do people stay in relationships that are clearly not working? Why do we rely on fate and chance so much in our lives? How do people form families in the 21st Century, and are the cultural tropes that seemingly govern these decisions actually corrsive?. I don’t profess to have answered these questions, merely suggest that the novel asks some of them.
Weeks in Naviras is available now on Amazon.com
Chris Wimpress was born in Northampton in 1977. He read English at Edinburgh University and on graduating worked as a journalist for BBC news, including stints on the Today programme and at the BBC’s political department at Westminster.
Chris helped launch the UK edition of The Huffington Post in 2011, working there as the site’s UK political editor until the end of 2012.