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Luke Williams on writing Diego Garcia

Luke Williams shares notes from his presentation for Research Day on writing Diego Garcia, a collaborative novel with Natasha Soobramanien. The provisional notes reflect that the novel is a work in progress, as well as the provisional nature of researching and writing in collaboration. Diego Garcia is being published chapter by chapter online, with a full publication forthcoming from Fitzcarraldo Editions

• Going to talk mostly about my current book project, a collaborative novel, and how it animates my research interests

• It’s called Diego Garcia, after the island of that name.
• For those who don’t know:

About Diego Garcia

• It’s a small island in the Indian Ocean
• A former British colonial territory, still under UK control
• It has for decades been host to a controversial US military base.
• Diego Garcia is the homeland of the Chagos people, who were forcibly removed to make way for the base
• Now no one, apart from military personal, are allowed anywhere near the island

About the book

• Didgo Garcia is not so much the story of the island as the story of two friends, writers, who become obsessed with the island
• They discover its wider history, the struggle of the exiled Chagossians, who are still fighting a legal battle to return
• They learn about the military base and its geopolitical significance: to secure key ‘oil routes’ during the Cold War, and now, to support US military policy in the Middle East.
• Gradually the writers begin to locate the story of Diego Garcia within a wider narrative: of neo-colonialism, forced migrations, the oil economy, anti-blackness, the war on terror…
• The project is a collaboration with another writer, Natasha Soobramanien
• The collaboration is evident on lots of levels: conceptual, narrative/textual, grammatical
• It’s synthesis of both our voices
• E.g. every chapter fully is co-authored and each sentence carries traces of both of us
• We’re using a ‘we’ voice, a voice that synthesises the first person plural and the third person omniscient.
• Here’s a short example of how this voice works:

‘We’d made it to the Meadows. It had taken him a while to get her out of bed but he’d persisted, offering to buy her a coffee and one of those cardamom buns she likes so much if she would come to the library. We slowed our pace. Before the Meadows there was always the chance she might change her mind. We were still talking about the morning as if something out of the ordinary had happened when really we’d spent it the way we spent every morning, him coming to her room with coffee, her accusing him of switching the heating off, him denying this.’

• The collaboration is just one aspect of an approach that is seeking to think through, and enact, what it means to write a novel at this point in time
• E.g. taking into account how the internet has effected the way we relate to information, language, text, research, how we read, how we approach narrative, relate to one another and the world, etc.
• We’re asking, for instance: How can a novel appeal to readers who read with 34 nested browser tabs open simultaneously?
• And, for that matter, what kind of novel gets written by novelists who spend increasing amount of their own time reading words off screens?
• This process is reflected in the novel stylistically: the text is an amalgam of the casual, scholarly, the statistical, personal, and quoted, with the use of research to animate its fictions, and fiction to interrogate research.
• Part of our interrogating the novel form involves not just our writing it but our approach to its publication
• It will be published as a complete book in 2020 by Fitzcarraldo Editions
• But before that, as each chapter is completed, it is published in various journals and magazines (we’ve published chs in White Review, BOMB, Semiotext(e), Book Works, and others)
• After each chapter comes out we put it on our tumblr and give a series of performances from the work in progress, which we consider part of the publication strategy
• Part of the result of the performances is that they create a kind of social encounter with the text and invite discussion
• We see the project in terms of trying to rethink how we might approach the novel form for our times is also about trying to collapse the distinction between its production its finished form.
• To open out the novel to a kind of continuous practice of writing, writing collaboratively, of living and working together.

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