Interview: Andy Southall talks about Both Feet in Paradise
Andy Southall writes fiction, travel and science-fiction. He grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, spent too many years in the fog of London, then followed the long white cloud – and his wife – to Wellington. Always wanting to write, he completed a creative writing diploma in 2016, and won an NZSA mentorship with Pip Adam in 2018 to write Both Feet in Paradise, which is shortlisted for the NZ Booklovers Fiction Award 2022. He has also written two travelogues: One Hundred Days in Samoa and 28 Days in Sri Lanka, and a novel, Making Meredith.
Tell us a little about Both Feet in Paradise.
So who’s seen that travel agent poster of a palm-fringed, white sand beach and wanted to be there? So imagine you are there, have been for a while, and for whatever reason can’t return home. Wouldn’t that be a good premise for a novel? Escape from paradise?
Both Feet in Paradise is the story of Adam who misses his flight home and finds himself trapped on a small remote Pacific island. He’s unable to book a new flight and there are no ferries or ships sailing either. Nor are international email and phones working. He grows increasingly frustrated about his situation, especially as his young daughter at home is seriously ill.
Then when it seems things can’t get any worse, he meets Eve in a café…
What inspired you to write this book?
I spent three months living in Samoa in 2017 and was constantly inspired – as well as daunted – by the long blue horizon and how much water surrounded the islands. Hundreds of kilometres to the nearest island of Tonga, and thousands back to New Zealand, with nothing in that space but water. How would anyone leave the islands if there were no flights or ferries? I wasn’t brave enough to paddle back as those early navigators had once done. Then towards the end of our stay, for a few days flights actually were cancelled due to a shortage of aviation fuel at Auckland Airport (remember that incident when a digger went through the Marsden to Auckland Airport fuel pipeline). Fortunately this didn’t stop me leaving a week or so later, but it did plant an idea in my head for a book.
What research was involved?
While I lived in Samoa I travelled around researching locations for my novel. I wanted authenticity – for the reader to feel they were on a tropical island location, with real details that could only be gleaned by being there. So I visited Robert Louis Stevenson’s house three times, sitting in each room, soaking up the wonderful vibes and writing down what I felt. (Robert Louis Stevenson lived in Samoa for the last four years of his life and is buried on Mount Vaea.) Likewise I stayed at a quirky, somewhat dilapidated hotel in north-west Savai’i to experience the peculiar guest house in which Adam finds himself living.
Upon returning from Samoa I researched what Samoa had been like before the first missionaries arrived – all the myths and stories that still play an important role in Samoan culture. I wanted to include some of these in my book – the story of Sina and the Eel, the warrior princess Nafanua – as a counterbalance to Adam’s ‘escape from paradise’ theme.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
I treat writing as a nine-to-five job. Each day I’d aim to complete 1,000 to 2,000 words and build up to a final manuscript of around 80,000 words. Since Both Feet in Paradise was written as part of an NZSA mentorship I was fortunate to have Pip Adam’s help in reviewing chapters and finally assessing the whole book. A lot of my process is also editing the manuscript, taking those first draft chapters and crafting them through many iterations to improve the writing by dropping unnecessary descriptions/phrases/sentences and often looking for more concise, pertinent words.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Actually I did use a soundtrack to write some chapters in this book, playing a piece of music to help get my feelings in the right mood. I found a piano version of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds – okay, absolutely nothing to do with Samoa or paradise! If I had to choose a song or two now, maybe I’d pick Another Day in Paradise (simply for the title) and the theme from that old TV series Robinson Crusoe (by Robert Mellon).
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
For Adam maybe someone like Hugh Laurie because he played Mister Pip so well. I can picture his face crinkling into lines with Adam’s frustration, just as he’d upturn Adam’s suitcase. For Eve maybe someone like Teuila Blakely (Vasa from Shortland Street) who’d convey Eve’s calmness so well, and equally Eve’s resolute inner strength.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
There are two voices in this book – Adam’s which is very close to my own voice and Eve’s which is intended to be very different. Writing Eve was going to be a challenge for me, yet by having her so close to the island and all its stories, she took on a life and character all of her own. I think I enjoyed writing these chapters most – they were well outside my comfort zone and I learnt things from Eve I wasn’t aware of before. When the book was finished, I enjoyed reading her chapters most – the almost magical way she is so content with her life and where she lives.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I’m not sure I did celebrate. It’s difficult to know exactly when you have finished a book as there will always be lots of further stages – sending to publishers, more editing, more proofreads – before it is out in print. Perhaps for me the celebration was the launch, at Good Books in Wellington, when lots of loyal friends and readers turned up to celebrate too and buy copies.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I read I Laugh Me Broken by Bridget van der Zijpp at the start of the year and throughly enjoyed it. (I was due to share a stage with Bridget as part of the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of The Arts, however, sadly this had to be cancelled due too omnicron.) Bridget’s book has a similar theme to mine, yet from an entirely different angle. I’ve also never been to Berlin and Bridget’s book acts a fantastic travelogue.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’m working on science-fiction book that is also a satire of British politics. It is currently with an editor and hopefully will see the light of day soon. The intention is for this to be the first in a trilogy. I also have an idea for a thriller set in Wellington – similar to the theme of the movie Seven – but with an extinction rebellion twist.
The Cuba Press