John wrote his book Propinquity back in the 1980’s and the photo for John needs a small bit of explanation. John’s current occupation has him in the country of Cambodia where he is an aid worker. In the photo he provided to me he is helping to deliver food and medicine. Shows that he is a caring man and to me is even more insight to the author behind Propinquity.
Question 1: What inspired you to write Propinquity?
I was in my 20s, and I had always planned to be a writer. It seemed from early on to be the medium I was good at.
I was also spiritually oriented in those days. I’d been living in an ashram (monastery) for some years, and was still caught up in what would today be politely termed a “new religious movement”.
Question 2: Is there any significance to the name/names of your main characters?
My main characters are Clive Lean and Samantha Goode. One reader suggested this might be a reference to the seven lean years and seven good years that Joseph foretold from the Pharoah’s dream in Genesis – which was ingenious but inaccurate.
I’ve always been ambivalent about giving characters names that are clues to their personalities (e.g. Willy Loman). It’s not generally what happens in life, notwithstanding the occasional optometrist named Dr C Wright.
I liked Clive because it was so unusual – there are very few Clives in my generation – so I thought it might stick in people’s heads.
Question 3: During the writing process did you find yourself thinking about any of your own memories?
Writing a novel is a major psychological self-exploration, akin to a long series of therapeutic encounters – so yes.
Lots of my own childhood went into Clive’s backstory. Emotionally absent parents play a role, as does the need to fill the void later – finding an ancient mystery to solve in Clive’s case, finding a cult in mine.
The school stuff was pretty much straight from my own schooling.
Question 4: What were some of your favorite books growing up?
Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited was my favourite. That richness of language is something we see little of these days. I still think of it as the perfect novel. It’s my archetype.
Question 5: Do you hear from fans of the book, and if you do what do they say?
I get a fair bit of mail.
For many years it was only literary critics who reviewed Propinquity: these days the readers get to have their say, which is a great thing. There are quite a few reviews piling up on Amazon and elsewhere now.
Propinquity was written 27 years ago, and few people then thought that searching for truth was unacceptable. But things have changed a lot in the interim, mostly thanks to the New Atheists, probably. So today we’re in an era where spirituality is no longer intellectually respectable. I think many readers like Propinquity because it explores things that present-day novels don’t, much.
Others just like a good ecclesiastical adventure story.
When I re-released Propinquity this year, I thought some readers may think I’d lifted the plot from The Da Vinci Code: the basic story is quite similar. But people grasped that Propinquity was written 17 years earlier, so I needn’t have worried.
Question 6: What was the feeling like when you saw the very first printed version of your book?
It was delicious.
I loved Maureen Prichard’s cover right off, and still do.
Question 7: Do you continue to write?
Yep, but I’ve written more journalism in recent years – New York Times, New Scientist, and elsewhere. That’s all on my website.
I’m now wondering if Propinquity merits a sequel, or if maybe I should go off on another track fiction-wise.
Question 8: What is the message you want people to take away from the book?
Probably at the time I would have wanted people to investigate the religious cult I was caught up in. That, strangely enough, is where I got some of the ideas. (Cults are 49% good in my opinion, which is how they attract people.)
These days I’d be happy for people to derive any message or none.
Personally I’m an agnostic, but I want that this new intellectual orthodoxy – atheism – doesn’t cow people who want to explore spirituality. It’s nothing to be afraid of, and nor is it voodoo: it’s just the psychology we had before we had psychology.
Religion is worth exploring as psychology alone.
Question 9: If you could envision a future for your main character, what would it be?
That’s an interesting question. He would probably have hit his mid-life watershed, and radically changed his lifestyle and outlook I think. His drinking habit would have dwindled away to nothing (likewise his smoking), and he would have got seriously interested in diet, exercise and longevity. Basically the opposite of everything he does in the book.
The second half of life (if you play it right) is like the white section of the Tao symbol: darkness is implanted in it, but it’s mostly light. But the first half can be very confused.
Question 10: Who are those in the dedication of the book, and their importance to you?
Propinquity is dedicated to Gough Whitlam, the Prime Minister who brought my country, Australia, into the modern world. He went to Beijing and shook hands with Mao (well before Kissinger); and pulled Australia out of the Vietnam War – saving thousands of lives.
At home, Whitlam introduced subsidised medical for all citizens – which is still with us – as is most of the new infrastructure he built. As a consequence, Australia 40 years on is a fairly pleasant place to live in.
The + 1 Question: If you had any one place in the world you could travel to for a book tour, where would that place be, and why?
Probably New York City, because it’s the capital city of the world, and because among New Yorkers one doesn’t have to apologise for being a thinking person. Even the cab drivers are intellectuals in NYC.