I’m dumbstruck by the news that Communion Town has been longlisted for the Man Booker prize. What can you say about such an improbable stroke of good fortune for a first novel, other than repeating words like ‘thrilled’, ‘incredulous’, ‘bamboozled’ and ‘er… what?’ That’s what I’ve been doing since they announced the list. Getting a first book published at all feels like hitting the jackpot, so also catching the eyes of judges in a competition like the Booker is ridiculous, embarrassing bounty – more than any first-time writer could sensibly hope for.
One reason it’s such a good thing is that it’ll help the book find readers. Writing a novel is a strange process. You spend years working away in secret, building this fragile thing, and then you stand it up on its feet and send it tottering into the world to try and find those who’ll engage with it, respond to it, argue with it and get to know it- and maybe a few who’ll love it. You want it to encounter plenty of people, because that’s how it will reach the readers to whom it could mean something important: the readers who’ll end up feeling that it truly and privately belongs to them, not to its author or anyone else. You realize that, however many or few they may be, those are the readers for whom your book was written.
I hope those readers exist for Communion Town, but I wasn’t thinking about them as I wrote the book. I wrote it to pursue my own tastes and preoccupations, not really expecting that anyone would share them. I wanted to write about the cities I’d lived in and about cities in general – about their promise, threat and complexity, and their nature as emergent life forms and tangles of stories. And I wanted to write in a mixture of genres, not only because as a reader I like everything from scrupulous naturalism to weird fantasy, but because that’s what a city is like. It’s a mosaic of stories that work by differing sets of rules, and contradict one another even as they interrelate.
Communion Town is the story of a city which – like any city – looks different to each person who lives there. The book is full of narrative gaps into which the reader is invited or lured: it asks you to do a lot of the work of imagining and storytelling, because, in the end, when you read it the city belongs to you and its tales are yours to invent. Now that it’s out in the world, my hope for Communion Town is that it makes its way to the readers who’ll enjoy that: those who’ll want to explore the place that the book offers them, and who’ll find it a story worth telling themselves.