About The Author
Born in Ayrshire, John Niven graduated from Glasgow University with a first-class degree in English LIterature. He went on to spend ten years working in the music industry, during which time he worked with acts like Travis, Mogwai and Sigur Rós.
His first book was a novella entitled Music from the Big Pink, pubilshed under the guise of Continuum's acclaimed 33⅓ series of classic album guides. This blended fact and fiction in its account of the creation of The Band's The Big Pink.
His experiences as an A & R man, during which time he passed up the chance to sign both Coldplay and Muse, formed the basis of his first full-length fiction, Kill Your Friends, described by the Independent as 'a bleak, scabrous and over-the-top satire on the excesses of the Cool Britannia period of the 1990s'. His second novel, The Amateurs, moved into the world of golf, with its story of an amateur who qualifies for the Open.
His third novel, The Second Coming, courts controversy with its depiction of Jesus as a hippy layabout, entrusted with keeping an eye on Earth while God takes a much needed holiday. Unimpressed with his son's stewardship, God returns him to Earth to encourage less elfish behaviour amongst his creations. Jesus decides to audition for reality TV show American Pop Star in order to spread the Word.
In this exclusive interview for Foyles, John Niven talks about his personal review of religion, God and Jesus and his disdain for X-Factor, and lets us in on the subject of his next book.
Questions & Answers
There have been previous irreverent treatments of religious themes in popular culture - from Jesus Christ Superstar to, more recently, Jerry Springer the Opera and the Indelicates' concept album David Koresh Superstar. Was The Second Coming inspired by any of its predecessors?
I guess, as the book started life as a screenplay, Life of Brian was an influence. Also Bill Hicks' slant on Jesus and religion was an influence that runs through the book.
Have you received any hostility in response to the book's content?
Very, very little. I'm not that surprised really. There's been the odd online review that's been hostile, but also a few more from people who say 'I am Christian and I found this a very moral, Christian book. Which it hopefully is.
Contemporary mainstream pop, and its manufacturers, figure highly among your villains. Do you think shows like X-Factor have any redeeming qualities?
I don't watch those shows so I wouldn't really know. I mean, I watched a bit of X- Factor when I was outlining the novel, just to get the feel of the format right. But, honestly, why would you watch that?
How does your personal view of religion differ, if at all, from that expressed in the book?
Not much. I'm an atheist obviously. I just took the viewpoint that, if God and Jesus exist then surely they would be only Love and know only Love? The last thing they would be is these fearful, forbidding, judgemental figures that the religious right in America hold them up to be. They'd be dudes you'd want to hang with, as I'd put it in the novel.
Why did you decide to write the book in the present tense?
I think the present tense is the default setting for a lot of contemporary novelists. The historic past participle is something you see less and less. I like it because of the 'real time' implications - the feeling that the ground could fall away form your feet at any moment. You obviously see it a lot in genre fiction - horror, thriller. The use of it in The Second Coming might also be connected to the book's screenplay origins.
What does your background in the music industry contribute to your writing? Will you continue to draw on this experience in future work?
Not much beyond the fact that I felt I had let my brain atrophy for ten years and had a lot to make up. As for returning to the subject - hopefully I've covered the subject now.
Who are your influences, literary and otherwise?
I'm very fond of all the things you'd think I was fond of: Martin Amis, Nabokov and Updike. But also Angela Carter. And James M. Cain was a huge - though probably undetectable - influence on me as a writer.
Can you tell us anything about your next book? Is there a particular group or industry who should be feeling fearful of finding themselves your next subject?!
It's a thriller called Cold Hands. It's kind of about revenge and the impotence of revenge. It's set in Saskatchewan Canada. I'm a little nervous as it's the first thing I've done that contains no comedy whatsoever. But then, I'm nervous every time out. This is the fifth novel and it never gets easier.
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