An Interview with Iain Pears

  • By Joye Shepperd
  • June 28, 2016

The author discusses the mythical world of Arcadia, where storytellers are the most revered citizens.


Iain Pears is author of the international bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost. His new novel, Arcadia, features a world inside a world built by a modern-day female scientist. She hides this inner world in the basement of a longtime friend, Professor Henry Lytten, where she believes it will be safe from intruders. Yet one day, Lytten’s young neighbor, Rosie, chases a cat into Lytten’s cellar. There, the girl steps through the portal and finds herself in an idyllic secret world of intertwining adventures. But how will she get home again?

Do you believe in other worlds?

I’m happy to be guided by physicists on that one — although they don’t seem to have the faintest idea either. So I feel free to assume that alternate universes do exist until they make up their minds one way or another. 

How difficult is it to create another world? Could you give our readers some directions?

You take 300 years of physics, a large amount of money, a vast effort involving thousands of researchers, and a very great deal of electricity. Alternatively, you can just sit back in a chair with a cup of coffee and let your mind wander. The first may work, the second certainly does.

Are there any essential ingredients?

Enough realism to persuade, which depends on the person doing the imagining. For my part, I didn’t think I could pull off dragons, or at least I couldn’t do them as well as others, so I left them out.

Is this other world an extension of what we know or an antidote for it?

I offer two alternatives: one falls into the realistic what-may-well-be category; the other is more in the what-should-be category. 

The “virtue of insignificance,” as you phrase it, seems to mean that you can get away with things if nobody really notices you. True?

Very much so. Ask any celebrity, not that I am ever likely to be one. But insignificance seems to me to be the highest form of human liberty.

You write: “Chemically induced sanity needs a little lunacy to confer advantages.” What about regular sanity? What does it need?

These days, I think a good sense of humor is the most essential ingredient. Or a refusal to read about politics. Perhaps both.

Joye Shepperd is senior features editor of the Washington Independent Review of Books.

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