1981, Faber & Faber
The book Priest describes as his “key” novel is the story of Peter Sinclair, who tries to escape problems in his life by creating fantasy fiction, only to find his real-world and fictional selves merging. It’s the book that fully introduces the Dream Archipelago, a series of islands that can never be reliably mapped, within Priest’s fiction. Written at a time when Priest was frustrated “with the way the fantastic was being commodified and packaged” in SF franchises, it “liberated” his writing.
“It’s always tempting to try to make imaginings literal,” he says. “This is why almost every fantasy book these days has a map, a glossary, a family tree etc. People undoubtedly like this.
“Not me: I swim against that tide. I believe in the imaginative power of literature, that ideas and images in fiction are not just the things that are stated. When a poet writes about a rose, or a sunset, or a lover, the words have a double meaning. Of course they are meant literally: a rose, a sunset or a lover, but also these ideas mean something more symbolic, they stand for something that can’t be described literally, they express the feeling behind the poem.
“In a similar way, the islands in the Dream Archipelago have a literal function: they are places where people live their lives and do things, where boats dock, where people paint and write and draw, and fall out and make love, have jobs, where stories happen. But the islands also have a metaphorical life, a subtler meaning. I want people who read my stuff to share that double sense, think about it, perhaps enjoy it, and not just wonder what shape the coastline is, or where the Mountains of Gloom are situated.”