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Interview: Alan Goodwin talks about Greene Lyon

Alan Goodwin is a District Court Judge, but writing has been Alan’s passion since he was a teenager; he is also an avid reader with an enduring love of both fiction and non-fiction, especially history and biography. He has a particular interest in science, its history and its impact on the way we live.

Greene Lyon is Alan’s second novel. His previous publications are the bestselling novel Gravity’s Chain, published in Australia and New Zealand by HarperCollins, and the non-fiction book Working with Psychologists, co-authored with Llewelyn Richards-Ward. Alan talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Greene Lyon

The novel tells the ‘true’ story of Isaac Newton and the falling apple, one of the great historical myths.

The book combines real aspects of Newton’s life with entirely fictionalised parts and explores the murky divisions between magic beliefs and early scientific discovery.

The story centres around Newton’s obsessions and secretive nature. He wants to understand the universe, which he believes is the manifestation of God’s power, but is haunted by darker impulses and a passion for Alice Cutler, a girl from his youth, who bears the mark of a witch. When Alice’s life is threatened by a witch finder, Isaac’s life unravels, driving him to scientific creation and a choice to banish Alice with fatal consequences.

What inspired you to write this book?

I am entirely non-scientific and studied no science subject beyond elementary level, but scientists and how they formulate their theories has always fascinated me, more for the creative aspect than the actual science. And they don’t come any bigger than Isaac Newton. So, the book started from wanting to write about the discovery and its links with alchemy. It developed from there.


What research was involved?

I knew about Newton’s life from before starting the book, having read several biographies, so research on him was more about specifics of time and place. There was a lot of research around alchemy, apothecaries, witchcraft, and seventeenth century living. I wrote a rough first draft with little specifics, and then researched what was required from there.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

The book took ten years to write and so there were several changes in routine over the years as my work demands changed. However, in essence I’ve always had four core rules:

  • A weekly page count, that varies according to what I have on in the week.

  • An hour of writing, on an evening I’m at home during in the week and completing the page count at the weekend.

  • Always end a session on what I call the ‘downslope’, in other words a place that is easy to pick up from the next day, even if it means cutting a writing time short.

  • Never getting hung up on what I’m writing must be right – it can always be corrected or improved in the next draft. Because I write in short bursts, I try not to get bogged down. The first drafts are very much thrown down to see what sticks.


If a soundtrack were made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

I am a lifelong Genesis fan, so there would have to be one of their songs – possibly Ripples, when Isaac and Alice are in a glade together close to the end.

Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac, a song about a witch, so perfect for an Alice scene.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

Old Newton would have to be Jonathan Pryce, I have always thought him a dead ringer when you look at paintings of Newton in his later years.

Young Newton, I’d go for Timothee Chalamet, he looks like a young man grappling with his demons.

Florence Pugh for Alice. I know she is older, but somehow, she always came to mind when I was writing Alice.


What did you enjoy the most about writing Greene Lyon?

Being able to write about scientific discovery that pulled in a story arc, which in turn informed the discovery. All made up, of course.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I genuinely don’t recall any kind of celebration. No champagne or cigars, perhaps more relief I’d made it to the end.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Unquestionably, Question 7 by Richard Flannigan. As well as being one of the best current writers, his playing with form defies categorisation and he has produced something unique. 

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I have three ideas for novels in progress; I’m working on all of them to see which one carries me along. Too early to say which one is out ahead.


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