Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Alex Landragin

Alex Landragin is a writer whose fiction explores place, migration and literature's formal potential. He has also worked as a copywriter, travel writer, journalist, librarian, indigenous community worker, wine merchant and musician.

Landragin was born in France and migrated to Australia as a child. He has previously resided in Marseille, Alice Springs, Paris, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Washington DC. He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Landragin's debut novel is Crossings.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Crossings is a self-explanatory title by design. It came to me early and I could never come up with anything better. It refers directly to the novel’s central conceit of characters who can ‘cross’ from one body into another, and in that sense I like its simplicity and humility. But it can also be applied much more widely. It alludes to the novel’s unusual structure (it can be read conventionally as three separate stories or following an alternative sequence where the stories are interwoven into one whole). It’s also an invitation to the reader to consider crossing as a metaphor for such other things as history, love and literature.

What's in a name?

The backstory to Crossings takes place on a remote island, whose inhabitants can all cross from one body into another. Appropriation, especially of the colonial variety, is a major theme in the novel. Although there is much true history woven into the fictional story, after careful consideration of the ethics of the matter I decided to invent an island rather than set it on a real-life island. The island I invented I placed between Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands and called it Oaeetee as a nod to Polynesian culture. All the islanders’ names are Polynesian words sourced from various parts of Polynesia, from Tahiti to Hawaii – but otherwise the culture of Oaeetee, as described in the novel, is entirely the figment of my imagination. Writing about other cultures is necessarily tricky, particularly as a male European writer. I hold the Polynesian people and their culture in high esteem, as I do all indigenous peoples and their cultures, and I hope I’ve got the mix right.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I fell in love with the literature of exile and migration as a teenager, so in that sense not too much. But what would be astonishing to my nineteen year old self is that it would take more than two decades for me to realise that a story I was told at that time would make a good novel – and that it would end up being my debut novel.

In first year college, our teacher came in one morning and said he’d just read a marvellous story about an island whose inhabitants can cross from one body to another. In almost as many words, he continued, “And by the end of the story you don’t know who’s gone and who’s stayed behind.” That story blew my mind at the time, but I never did anything with it because it was someone else’s idea. Years later, my creative writing teacher told me he couldn’t remember the story he’d told us about at all. Fast forward to my fortieth year, when I was writing a blog called the Daily Fiction Project, writing and publishing a story every day. For story 151, running short of my own ideas, I wrote my own version of that apocryphal story – and the next day I realised the end of that story is the beginning of a much bigger, more interesting story. Thus Crossings was born.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are easier, but only because I so rarely finish a project. The two beginnings and two endings of Crossings came to me at the start of the project and barely changed. It was an inspired project in many ways.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I’m mostly uninterested in writing semi-autobiographical fiction, but my personality and my life are smeared all over Crossings in ways only I and a select few others will ever be able to recognise. I am a migrant from multiple backgrounds (French and Armenian), from a family of recidivist migrants and refugees, and I drew heavily on this heritage in writing the novel.
Visit Alex Landragin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Crossings.

--Marshal Zeringue