Sylvain Neuvel burst onto the literary scene in 2016 when his debut novel, Sleeping Giants, was published by Del Rey books after receiving rave reviews online. Quickly followed by the sequel, Waking Gods, the year of 2017 has seen his books longlisted for this year’s edition of Canada Reads, start the first steps to the big screen, and be translated into more than twenty languages around the world. They are both (from personal experience) pretty fantastic reads.
A year or so down the line, I caught up with Sylvain to chat Sleeping Giants, writing processes and life as an author.
What inspired you to pick up a pen and become an author?
Candy. Candy and toys. The first “books” I wrote were little comic books I sold to the neighbors for fifty cents when I was six. I used the money to buy Star Wars action figures, and 1 cent jujubes. I’ve been writing in one way or another ever since I can remember. I worked as a journalist, worked on a screenplay, wrote poetry, training manuals, etc. And now novels. I never really thought about the why, it just came naturally.
What was your inspiration for writing Sleeping Giants- and behind deciding to write about alien robots?
You can blame my son. He must have been three years old at the time. I offered to build a toy robot for him (I like to tinker), but he had a bazillion questions about the robot. He wanted to know where it came from, what it did, whether it could fly, etc. He wanted a story to go with it. I was watching Japanese anime with him when I asked myself what it would be like if we found giant alien things on Earth. I started writing that night. I wrote a story for adults, but my son did get his toy.
Why did you decide to write it in epistolary form, as a series of interviews and letters?
One of the things that occurred to me when I asked myself what would happen if we found signs of alien life here is that we wouldn’t know anything about it. Only a handful of people would be in the know, but it would leave a trace. There’d be documents, files of sorts. I decided that was what I wanted to write. I also like epistolary novels. It makes the book- the actual physical object- mean something in the story.
How challenging was it to write the sequel, Waking Gods (especially after amazing reviews for Sleeping Giants!)?
It was a different experience altogether. I wrote Sleeping Giants for the fun of it. I had no intention of publishing it when I started. No stress, no deadline. Waking Gods was different. Someone had already bought it, there was a deadline. That said, I knew the characters, I had gotten more comfortable with the format. I had tons of fun writing Waking Gods.
What’s your writing process like?
I plot, I plot, I plot. These books are a nightmare to outline because I need to figure out what point of view I’ll use for each scene, what I’ll show, what I won’t show. I spend about a third of the time structuring the book, then I add a few lines here and there, key moments or things I really want the characters to say. I write thin at first, then I thicken it until I’m happy.
Who’s your favourite, or most inspirational, author?
Favourite is too hard. There are too many, and it changes over time. Most influential: Michael Crichton. I grew up with him.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Write something you’re proud of. Write the best book you can write, and own that. Own it. Everything else is out of your control, completely. Don’t put your self-worth on the line for something you have no control over.
What’s next in the pipeline?
There’s the Black Mirror book coming out next year. I’m one of three authors with a story in the first volume. I’m also working on something new, but it’s too early to talk about it. Soon…
Well, now I’m intrigued. Thank you so much, Sylvain!
Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods are published by Del Rey. You can get them here!
Book covers taken from Goodreads.
Photo credits: James Andrew Rosen