Q + A with Joe Treasure

Friday 4 August 2017

This month marks Clink Street Publishing's second annual Summer Blogival, and I'm excited to say that I'm taking part not just once but twice. There's a lot of exciting content coming out this month, so be sure you're keeping up to date! I had the pleasure of asking Joe Treasure, author of The Book of Air, a few questions so stick around if you want to know more about his post-apocalyptic novel. (And be sure to keep your eyes peeled for a review from me later in the Blogival!)

1. The Book of Air is your third novel, and it seems to be quite different to your previous two! Were there any challenges you faced in writing it?
So many challenges!  You can’t know when you start a novel where exactly it’s going to take you. To some extent you have to follow the characters, see how the plot develops. Inevitably you’re going to be pulled out of your comfort zone, beyond your knowledge or experience. I wanted to write about an isolated rural community in the future, to tell Agnes’s story. That was already hard enough. I’ve lived in the country, on the fringes of farming life. But essentially I’m a city-dweller. There was a lot I didn’t know. It was only after I’d begun that I realised I would have to explain how our society collapsed. That was a whole other thing – how to describe the end of our world.

2. How long did it take to plan and write the world Agnes lives in?
Once I’d got into it and had time to work consistently, I wrote a complete draft in about six months. But there were long interruptions along the way, including a fulltime teaching job for a year and relocating from California to London. At various stages I put it aside for a while, and came back to it for a fresh look later on.  At one point I completely changed the ending.  It’s an idea I’ve lived with over a number of years.

3. In the trailer for The Book of Air you mention that Agnes discovers secrets about her community. Were there any secrets you discovered about our world whilst writing?
I was reminded of our utter dependence on technology. It also made me think about the arbitrariness of many of our institutions. The education Agnes receives seems strange to us. But I think there’s something random about what we choose to teach children in our schools. Thinking about a society organised on different principles made me think about the accidental nature of the way we live.

4. Would I be correct in assuming Jane Eyre plays a big part in The Book of Air, shaping Agnes' world in terms of rules? If this is a correct assumption, what was it that made you pick that particular book?
Yes, Jane Eyre is a sacred text for them. I wanted a well-known book, a classic. And it had to be something designed for pleasure rather than instruction, so a romantic novel rather than a work of philosophy, because I wanted their way of reading it to be completely different from ours. Then I thought a story set in the country with strong elemental themes would make more sense to them than something by Jane Austen, for example, or Dickens.

5. The Book of Air is set in a post-apocalyptic world. What are some of your favourite works in similar settings?
I’m not a huge reader of post-apocalyptic fiction. But I was hugely impressed by The Handmaid’s Tale when I first read it. Atwood rewrites the rules of society and then sees what happens. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World presents a collision between “civilised” people who read nothing and a “savage” steeped in Shakespeare’s plays. I read that first when I was a teenager and it probably lodged somewhere deep.

6. Other than these works, where did your inspiration come from?
As a child Jason and his sister Penny travel around the country living in a bus. I drew on childhood experiences of my own in writing that. I think my interest in marginal communities began in childhood. But inspiration often comes from unknown sources. While you’re busy as a writer consciously working to solve some technical problem, your unconscious is attending to the important stuff.

7. What can we expect from Agnes and Jason?
I think, for now, their stories are told. By me, at least. I’d be curious to know what other people might imagine for them.

8. If you were in Jason's shoes - battling the virus - what would you do?
In response to the virus itself, I’d be helpless, as Jason is. In coping with a collapsing system, I don’t know if I could match his resourcefulness and courage. But he has a child to care for, which, now I think about it, is probably what principally motivates him to survive.

9. It's the end of the world. You can team up with Jason or Agnes. Who would you pick and why?
Survival in The Book of Air mainly depends on practical skills, adaptability, the capacity to form relationships, resourcefulness in using whatever you’ve got to make things better for yourself and the people around you. You survive as a community – or not. Jason and Agnes both have admirable qualities. But Jason is representative of our world. Agnes is the future. I’d have to go with Agnes.  

10. Can we expect another book - maybe even a sequel - from you soon?
Another book, perhaps. I’m working on short stories at the moment, each one offering a different vision of what the future might look like. So far I’m enjoying not being committed to a long exploration of any of these ideas. But perhaps, at some point, one of them will hook me and I’ll embark on something longer.

About the author
Joe Treasure currently lives in South West London with his wife Leni Wildflower. As an English teacher in Wales, he ran an innovative drama programme, before following Leni across the pond to Los Angeles, an experience that inspired his critically acclaimed debut novel The Male Gaze (published by Picador). His second novel Besotted (also published by Picador) also met with rave reviews.

Amazon UK


  1. I read The Book of Air as well for Blogival! Treasure was very eloquent in answering the questions and I was really impressed with it. Looking forward to your second post!

    1. Ahh what a coincidence! My second post is a review for it and I've just finished it so need to write it up, but I have no idea how I'm going to get my thoughts on it down!


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