Audrey Niffenegger: LibraryThing Autoren-Interview
Audrey Niffenegger is the author of the best selling novel The Time Traveler's Wife (recently made into a movie) and two graphic novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress. Her new novel, Her Fearful Symmetry is a fantastic tale of twins, love and ghosts, set in and around London's Highgate Cemetery. Niffenegger teaches at Columbia College in Chicago.
You write of Highgate Cemetery beautifully—what's your connection to Highgate, and how did the book end up being set there?
I was initially planning to set the book in Chicago, using the wonderful Graceland Cemetery. Then I asked myself, What is the most interesting cemetery I've ever been to? and the answer to that was Highgate. I had been there in 1996, had taken the tour and remembered it as an enclosed, chaotic wonderland. So I called the cemetery's office and spoke to Jean Pateman; she was not too encouraging at first, but allowed me to come and meet her. We gradually built a very fruitful working relationship and friendship. Jean taught me a great deal about the cemetery and about London. All of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery were extremely courteous and helpful.
I first met Neil in Sydney, Australia at a literary festival. We bonded over comics and graphic novels. Neil and his friend Hayley Campbell once took my Highgate tour. He was very close to finishing The Graveyard Book and just wanted a few finishing touches. It was great fun to show him around, since he was already very familiar with the place.
The character of Robert teaches us about the history of Highgate and some of its occupants. If you could sit down to dinner with anyone buried at Highgate, who would you chose?
I think George Wombwell would be an interesting dining companion. He was a menagerist, by the time he died in 1850 he had three touring zoos. He seems to have been resourceful and clever and not overly scrupulous. You can read about him here.
I found the story of Martin heartbreaking. What inspired that character?
I once had a friend who had very severe OCD. He was not like Martin as a personality, but he did inspire me to think about anxiety disorders and the convoluted ways they can affect people.
Do you believe in ghosts?
No, I'm afraid I don't. I find the idea of ghosts very beautiful, though.
You're a visual artist, and have written two graphic novels. How do you find writing novels different?
It's much faster. Words are precise in certain ways that images cannot be, and vice versa. Words can manipulate time more easily. Perhaps words are more intimate than images, since words lead each reader to create their own images in the private theatre of the mind.
How involved have you been in the cover art for your novels?
I helped with the initial concept for the UK cover of Her Fearful Symmetry; the design is by Suzanne Dean of Jonathan Cape, who also designed the cover of The Time Traveler's Wife. I like her work tremendously. The US cover of Her Fearful Symmetry is by Rex Bonomelli of Scribner, and my involvement was to stand by and applaud. I am lucky to have covers that are so different and yet both convey the tone of the book perfectly.
There are special editions of Her Fearful Symmetry and The Time Traveler's Wife with covers I designed. I had more freedom than the official designers, since these editions aren't for the mass market.
What's on your personal bookshelves? What books or authors inspire you?
Loads of design and typography books; lots of books about London, cemeteries, death, poetry, bookbinding, lots of novels, lots of comics.
I recently bought a complete run of The Savoy, a magazine that was art directed by Aubrey Beardsley, who is one of my heroes. Life? or Theatre? by Charlotte Salomon, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, anything by Richard Powers, Kelly Link, Geoff Ryman, Raymond Chandler.
I just finished The Girl From Foreign by Sadia Shepard, an unusual memoir in which she searches for her grandmother's roots in a Jewish community in India. It was a revelation, especially since I don't know much about India.
Questions from LibraryThing members:
I think I would buy quite a lot of Flocked Paisley Hot Pink on Burgundy paper and I would wallpaper my workroom with it. Then I would see what happened to the ensuing artwork. Probably things would get kind of bordello-ish.
From imager: Do you think of a story and then find the characters for it, or is it the other way around and the characters find you with their own story to tell?
I seem to begin with characters, and then the characters require more characters (they need friends and family) and then I need something for them to do, and then I have the glimmering of a plot.
From mmignano11, on film adaptation of The Time Traveler's Wife: I recently saw the movie made of your book about time travel. Is it difficult to see your work in the hands of the film-makers? Were you allowed much control over what was the final product? Do you feel most proud of your novel or the movie that has been made of it? Do you feel that the movie portrayed what you intended for the book to portray?
Well... I haven't seen the movie. I didn't have any control (novelists seldom do) and it seemed best to let the film makers get on with it without me hanging around. The novel is mine, the movie belongs to the director, actors and screenwriter, and to all the people who worked on it.
From VictoriaPL: I'd like Audrey to describe her desk or office/writing area. Also, does she write at a certain time of day?
I write whenever I can, but I am more productive at night. My writing area is a big desk covered with papers, CDs, bills, notebooks, half-read novels, post-it notes, two cats, a computer and all its paraphernalia, etc.
—interview by Abby Blachly