Grant Price Uses Storytelling to Start a Conversation About Our Climate
Author publishes his second novel, 'By the Feet of Men'
Grant Price is the author of two novels. His most recent, By the Feet of Men (paid link), is a post-apocalyptic story set in a post-climate change world.
Price was born in the United Kingdom but today calls Berlin home. In the interview below, Price talks about how he came to fiction writing, writing about climate change, and the books he’s most enjoyed lately. You can buy By the Feet of Men here (paid link).
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Q&A with Grant Price
Can you tell us about yourself?
I wonder whether there’s an acceptable number of lines you can write here before people start thinking ‘hey there, narcissist.’ I’ll be super brief: I was born in the UK, lived all around the country because my father was in the army, moved to the Netherlands in 2009, and then Germany in 2010. Now I spend most days sitting in my OCD-tidy flat in the center of Berlin, dividing my time between working for other people and berating myself for working for other people. I make top 10 lists of everything. It helps me sleep.
When and why did you move to Berlin?
I moved here because five years ago I was on a career precipice: I was translating car manuals at Volkswagen in a town where imagination goes to die, and a man in a polyester suit who barely knew my name offered me a promotion that would’ve bound me to the company with an invisible umbilical cord forevermore. I decided it was a hint from the cosmos to run in the opposite direction, and the opposite of faceless corporate oligarchy is Berlin (in theory, anyway).
Here you’re faceless in a different way: it’s like being in a band with a thousand members and you’re all trying to play lead guitar over the top of each other, and nobody in the audience can hear you, but they nod and smile just to be polite anyway.
You’ve been writing fiction for four years. What led you to that moment?
It’s not a super interesting story, but after moving to Berlin I spent a year working at a startup and realized it was the same smoke and mirrors as before, only on a miniature scale and for half the money, so I became depressed to the extent that I couldn’t lift myself off the couch. With my 27th birthday fast approaching and me all strung out, I had an epiphany: everything I’d ever done up to that point had been because I thought I was supposed to do it, not because I actually wanted to.
Hardly unique, but you can’t free yourself before you unlock the chains. The next day I quit my job and decided to pursue the only two goals that seemed important to me, namely: 1. To write a coherent novel; and 2. To get a worthwhile novel published.
What have you learned about fiction writing during that time?
Don’t tell anyone that you’re writing a novel until you’re properly ready. The more you tell people, the more they’ll ask you about it, and the more pressure you’ll feel to deliver.
You have to write every day, kind of. That is to say: When you write for a couple of hours from one day to the next, that huge, unassailable, snowcapped Alp of resistance will gradually become a normal-sized mountain, and then it will become a hill, then a hillock, then a mound, and then, if you’re really strict with yourself, a mere knoll of opposition. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t take breaks, though – you should. Days off are essential for remembering why you’re doing this in the first place.
Give yourself all the time you need, but use that time for a purpose. There is no deadline (unless, of course, you’ve agreed one with your fancy publisher, in which case enjoy panicking for six months, and also I’m jealous).
How can we benefit from fiction being translated?
Translating/copywriting is beneficial as a whole, though, because the process forces you to think about language from many different angles. Your grammar has to be perfect; you generally have to be economical with your vocabulary choices; you’re hyperaware of sentence structures and the need to keep them punchy; and you appreciate the semantic nuances offered by things like modal particles, sentence lengths and the omission of certain elements of punctuation.
A few months ago, I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, in which he discusses the controversial ‘10,000-hour rule’, which states that to become a bona fide expert in any particular skill, you have to practice it for 10,000 hours. I worked out that after spending around six hours a day for ten years writing translations and texts, I’m pretty close to that number. I am by no means saying I’m a world-class authority in writing, but it definitely helps me to have had so much practice up to now.
By the Feet of Men is set in “a post-climate-change wasteland,” according to the book’s description. What prompted you to tell a story in such a setting?
I was tired of being depressed by reports in the media about humanity sliding ignorantly towards anthropogenic extinction, so I decided to channel my fear of the present and future into something worthwhile. Art gives you the opportunity to take a subject like the climate crisis and run with it in any direction you choose. If your intentions behind what you’re creating are genuine, then what you’re doing will resonate with somebody, somewhere. And that’s how you start a conversation that goes beyond the page.
Is there a theme or a message you hope readers take away from By the Feet of Men?
That they should buy another copy for friends and family, I’m joking; I’d give it away if I was allowed to. I don’t hope for anything – I’m just amazed when people take the time out of their schedule to read something I’ve written.
You’re working on your fourth novel. Can you tell us anything about it?
It’s very early on, so I can’t really say anything about it other than that it’s called Reality Testing, it has a female protagonist, and it’s set in a near-future Berlin.
Are you writing anything else these days?
This year I’ve been focusing on creative nonfiction and journalistic texts, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because I receive responses from publications more quickly than for short stories. They also seem to come more naturally to me.
Have you read any good books lately?
Yes! Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is like an intricate glass sculpture, equal parts formidable and fragile. It reminded me a little of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Another would be The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, which is a book-length linguistic juggling act that left me open-mouthed.
Anything else you’d like Bidwell Hollow readers to know about you or your work?
I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak about my work on this site. Thanks a lot, Nick!
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