Priest’s latest novel tells of a composer’s travels. It’s his third novel inside a little more than half a decade following a long break after The Separation. The gap was down to a combination of his children being of school age, “the demoralising after-effects of editorial intervention on The Separation” and the distraction of The Prestige being filmed. The Gradual, The Islanders (2011) and, to a lesser extent, The Adjacent (2013) see him once again exploring the Dream Archipelago.
“I don’t make decisions about these things: they come upon me,” he says. “I went several years without writing about the Archipelago, but then one day I started thinking about it again and it gained a grip on me. At its most basic level, the world of islands is a sort of blank canvas, where background outlines have already been shaded in, leaving the foreground for stories. I have several Archipelago stories still in mind, but I think I will leave it for now.
“The state of living on an island runs deep through most people in this country, me no less than anyone else. I often fall asleep to the sound of the BBC shipping bulletin, a soothing rhythm of storms and lulls, great winds and foggy banks, a sense of a maritime world going on just a short distance away. I dream of a world where there is nothing but islands, coasts, shallow straits, ferries to and fro.”