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In conversation with Audrey Niffenegger

Audrey Niffenegger is an American writer, artist and academic famously known for writing The Time Traveler’s Wife. She recently participated in the Manchester Literature Festival, and I had the pleasure of interviewing her at her hotel.

Before your debut novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, you were mainly focused on visual arts and graphic novels. Was the transition from artist to writer a difficult one or did it just come naturally?

It seemed fairly natural because I never gave up being an artist. So, it wasn’t like I had to stop doing anything I just had to begin getting involved in publishing. I had pretty good luck, it wasn’t extremely difficult for me. It took me 9 months to find an agent and after that things went fairly easily.

I read that you teach novel writing at Columbia College in Chicago. What advice would you give to young aspiring writers today on breaking into the industry?

I’m teaching a seminar on novel writing for people who are working on novels. The thing with writing is that you can now pretty effectively put your own work out via blogs on the web, and there’s a zillion million outlets as long as you’re not too worried about getting paid. The getting paid part is kind of the thing that most people want to try to get into. I didn’t publish a novel until I was 40 so this advice won’t be popular, but I think it’s a good idea to work on your writing until it’s actually pretty hardcore amazing rather than trying to get published with your early stuff. A lot of people starting out just want to get on with it and get published and have a career right away. There are certainly some people whose early work is great and should be published but the number one thing I would say to people is try to be patient and also not to get disheartened if the doors don’t swing open right away. You may have to write the equivalent of a couple of books before you actually write one that’s really going to be the one you want to publish. It’s all about mastering your craft. It’s possible to get published with something fairly crappy but later you’ll feel bad about it.

Would you say the film adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife did it justice in terms of depicting your story?

I have not actually seen the film. I did read the script. I’m not sure how close to the script was to the thing they actually shot. At a certain point I realized the film was getting fairly far away from my idea of my book and I thought, ‘well the film people have a right to do whatever they want’ so I kind of just let go of it. I don’t really think of it as my film because I didn’t make it. I try not to say much about it because I don’t want to judge people for liking it or not liking it. People can think what they want about it, which they will.

There’s a new film that came out last month called About Time, which has a similar story line and even the same leading actress, Rachel McAdams. Do you think the success of your book had anything to do with this?

There’s a lot of films before my film, like Somewhere in Time which had Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, made back in the ‘80s. So it’s been going on for quite a while. Since I haven’t seen it I wouldn’t really know. I mean I think the thing that probably is the closest to the spirit of my book is an episode of Dr. Who called “The Girl in the Fireplace” which Russell T. Davies said in some interview is actually inspired by The Time Traveler’s Wife. It has that business of a man visiting a young girl as she grows up. Of course, since it’s Dr. Who it takes off on an entirely different direction, which I really enjoyed.

I have noticed a few recurring themes in your work, such as romance, self-exploration and mystery. And most of your main characters are women. Is there a reason for this?

I think you don’t really have to try to put things in. The things that you’re interested in will just keep cropping up over and over again without you really making an effort. Probably the most overarching theme for most of the stuff I do has to do with loss and the passing of time – and the finality of the passing of time. I could not explain to you why. All the things listed are things I’m really attracted to, but why those things and not, say, math I don’t know. Some things seem inherently appealing and there’s a certain vibe that I recognize as being my work .

Your work has been compared to that of Edward Gorey, who also makes graphic novels, is from Chicago and even went to the same college as you. Do you think there are any similarities in your work?

He’s certainly the person I get compared to most frequently, and I think it’s because the people I really am influenced by are not as well known. So I don’t consider myself to be actually influenced by him at all, although I like his work. The people that really mean a lot to me are people like Aubrey Beardsley.

Is the book you’re working on now, Chinchilla Girl in Exile, which is about a girl with excessive body hair, meant to be comical in some way?

It’s kind of a coming of age story. A lot of it is about what it’s like to grow up feeling different which everybody kind of feels, like an outsider a little bit. I think that even if you’re tremendously popular, every adolescent has that feeling of not being quite secure, and you’re changing so much all the time. Parts of it are funny, but it’s not a slapstick kind of thing.

Can you give us a little taster of the upcoming sequel of The Time Traveler’s Wife? There’s website called

It is mainly about Alba as a grown up. She’s grown up to be a violinist but she’s also got extreme stage fright and so instead of becoming a performing artist she’s decided to become a composer. Her main problem is that she’s got two husbands and one of them doesn’t know about the other one. One of her husbands is a time traveler from the second half of the 21st century so in real time he’s 54 years younger than she is but they tend to meet back in the 1960s. I got interested in writing about climate change so you can expect that there will be some kind of horrendous weather things going on.

I read an interview you did in 2010 and I got the vibe that you were very alternative and indie what with not owning a TV, having a drummer boyfriend and listening to the Sex Pistols. Do you consider yourself a hipster?

Lost the drummer boyfriend, currently going out with Eddie Campbell who is a well-known comics artist so this is my graphic novelist boyfriend. I’m sort of turning into an old lady. I heard Miley Cyrus for the first time the other day. The people I tend to come out for have been playing for quite a while. So I wouldn’t think of myself as being incredibly cutting edge or anything like that.

What did you think of the Manchester Literature Festival compared to literary conventions held back home in Chicago?

What’s nice about this one is that the university’s involved so there were a lot of students coming to it. In Chicago, a lot of the time you look at the audience and everybody’s grey haired. Just walking around Manchester is lovely. Your university’s huge! I had no

Tags: Audrey Niffenegger, Manchester Literature Festival, The Time Traveler's Wife

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