MMU Alumnus, Adrian Barnes, nominated for Arthur C. Clarke Award
Words by Neil Harrison
A graduate of an online Master’s Degree course run by MMU has been nominated for a prestigious science fiction literary award. Adrian Barnes, who received an MA in Creative Writing, has seen his debut novel, Nod, shortlisted for the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award, an annual British event which seeks out the best science fiction novel of the year.
The Canadian based writer, who was born in Blackpool but moved to Canada when he was five years old, is in Britain for only a short time in order to publicise the novel, ahead of attending the awards ceremony on May 1st. Humanity Hallows caught up with him in West Yorkshire, where his publishing company, Bluemoose Books, is based.
Asked whether he was a writer before receiving his Master’s Degree in 2008, Adrian laughs,
“Not in the ‘published, having-a-book-out kind of way!’ I’ve always written, and always been an avid reader but the reason I took the [MA] course was to become a teacher. I needed that qualification in order to do that and in Canada, with a family and other commitments, it can be quite difficult to do, so the online course made sense.”
As part of the MA, students are required to have completed a novel and in Adrian’s case, that novel was Nod. When asked about his approach to writing, the author, who clearly has more than one string to his bow – being a teacher of creative writing and also the proprietor of the Rossland Telegraph media outlet – says,
“I write fairly quickly, I can have [a first draft] written in around three weeks … I’m bragging a little there … but I re-write forever.”
The novel itself is an exploration of the consequences of lack of sleep on a mass scale. As well as the award nomination, it has gone on to receive critical acclaim, with The Guardiandescribing the book as ‘outstanding’. The premise seems inspired in its simplicity, so just how did it occur to him?
“I often have difficulty sleeping myself, right at the moment, for instance, due to the travelling. I think what interests me most of all is the way that tiredness, loss of sleep, can begin to affect the strongest relationships, even in a family setting. There’s a very thin veneer there when you begin to think about it; how would society continue to function? They say you can only survive for six days without sleep before going mad.”
Where, then, does Nod sit within the science fiction genre? Adrian largely dismisses the notion that the book is his journey down the much wandered ‘zombie’ path. It is, however, an apocalyptic scenario set “just a little into the future,” says the writer.
“I would describe the book as being in that sub-genre of science fiction, speculative fiction. It’s very much a ‘what would happen if…’ kind of scenario, in much the same way that Cormack McCarthy’s The Road is, for instance.”
Concurrent to the theme of insomnia, there is an etymological aspect to the book, hinted at in the title itself. The Land of Nod, whilstbeing an almost comforting notion for most who aspire to drift off to it, is in actual fact the biblical place of exiled torment for Cain—banished for the crime of slaying his brother Abel—which is described in The Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. Not such a comforting notion. Adrian says,
“I am fascinated with medieval words and their meanings, which have often come to take on different forms through the centuries. The principle character is an etymologist and the dual aspects of certain words, certain notions, begin to take shape and bear relevance as the events of the story unfold.”
As well as promoting Nod, Adrian is currently working on other projects; both fiction and non-fiction, and there has been interest from movie companies in the United States, eager to see his debut novel adapted for the big screen. Clearly, Adrian Barnes is a name to look out for in the future.
The 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award winner is announced on May 1st.