INTERVIEW: Tim Binding author of Beneath the Trees of Eden

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An English Western inspired by William Faulkner, Beneath the Trees of Eden is Tim Binding’s masterpiece: a visionary depiction of England at the twilight of a rebellious era, told through the story of a renegade couple as they travel across the country’s motorways.

S. How did you carry out the practical research for the novel, particularly in terms of the roads? Are these areas you know well yourself?

TB. When motorways were built, and how a motorway was constructed (particularly the M62 and the challenge of the Scammonden damn) were crucial to the timeline in the novel – how Louis and his crew might have worked, so a good deal of research went into all that. By additional good fortune someone I had known at university had worked on the M62 during his vacation and we travelled the route together. It was he who gave me the lovely phrase ‘play those banjos boys’. Going over them with him was the first time I’d ever been there.

S. Your novel is inspired by Faulkner, but what specifically about his writing did you want to capture in this book?

TB. This is something my editor said, and not me. The first time I met her, her second question to me was did I like Faulkner and I told her I thought he was the greatest writer of the 20th century. Writing this novel I made no conscious connection to the man at all, and wouldn’t have dared to do so. The first Faulkner I read (when I was 17 ) was Light in August. I was completely entranced by the length and depth of his sentences. They took me somewhere I didn’t think possible. It
is still the one I return to the most.

S. What is it about driving and exploring the open road that you believe gives it this almost religious-like following?

TB. Good question and one that I find difficult to answer, for I am not interested in cars myself, and driving ( in England at least ) is hardly a pleasure – …open roads? Are there any? However, I was, and still am fascinated by the American West, the place Huck Finn had to light out to, the place in which the poet Ed Dorn delivers in his masterful poem Gunslinger, and the space from which Shane appears in George Steven’s marvellous film of the same name. That is the religion, the dream of the beyond – and the long impossible getting to it.

S. Do you think the family – Alice, Louis, and Chester – could have ever worked as one unit? Was there ever a version in which the pair didn’t leave their son behind?

TB. Another good and oddly perceptive question. The second question first. There was an earlier version where only Louis left (when Chester was much younger) but it was wrong. He’d have never left without Alice, and vice versa. They had to go together. It was a bold thing to do, and to write. Do I think they’d all work together? They have worked for a time, quite a long time, and pretty well considering. Not wishing to give anything away – you might get a sense of how things might pan out by the end…

S. Tell me more about the inspiration and history of the Brebis. The word means ‘sheep’ in French, but how does its presence in the novel transcend this simple image?

TB. The easiest of answers I am afraid. On holiday in Cap Ferret I would always buy the ‘Brebis’ yoghurts that came in little pots with the picture of one on the carton. Quite why Louis alights on the name is as much a mystery to me as it is to you – but I think that is the point of Louis. We don’t really have any idea where he comes from and perhaps his using the name adds to that. Going back to the earlier question, there is a line in Shane where Shane ( Alan Ladd ) tells Marian Starret ( Jean Arthur ) that ‘that was an elegant meal’ she had just cooked, Shane’s unknown past
illuminated by that one unlikely word….

Beneath the Trees of Eden is published by Bloomsbury Books and is available here.

Tim Binding

Tim Binding is the acclaimed author of In the Kingdom of Air, A Perfect Execution, Island MadnessOn Ilkley Moor, Anthem, Man Overboard, and The Champion  and the children’s book Sylvie and the Songman.  He lives in Kent with his wife and daughter.

A publisher for over thirty years, Tim Binding worked in a senior editorial position at both Picador and Penguin.  In his time he has worked with a huge range of authors, ranging from Booker Prize-winning novelists to bestselling science fiction writers. He also wrote with Simon Nye The Last Salute, a TV sitcom which ran for two series on BBC1 featuring a 1960s AA patrol team.  He also unwittingly helped write Bob Dylan’s blurb for his masterful autobiography, No Direction Home, of which he is inordinately proud.

Interview by Mariah Feria


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