"The Binding is a book about books and the power of their contents; it’s a book about love, how it binds us and sets us free, and it’s a book about knowing and accepting yourself."
Sarah, Web Team
The Binding is Bridget Collins' first adult novel, and it's set to be one of our favourites of the year (and it's only January!). In a tale laced with magic and unforgettable characters, Collins explores the importance of memory to our identity and how this might change if we were able to permanently erase parts of our past. Below, exclusively for Foyles, the author tells us about the inspiration for The Binding, how love is at its core, and how she feels about her characters.
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I started studying bookbinding a few years ago, and I was immediately seduced by it: by the processes, the materials – the coloured papers, gold, leather, beeswax, silk – and the tools, which are made of wood and bone and metal. It was all wonderfully tactile, with a sort of subtle glamour that made me imagine another, older, world. When you restore books, you start by taking them apart, and it’s like going backwards through time: by the point when you’re ready to start work, you’ve learnt something about the original binder, and you feel surprisingly close to them. You see the mistakes they’ve made, the shortcuts, the places they’ve been lazy or taken extra care. Being an incorrigible daydreamer, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d pretend I was an apprentice, and start to imagine the life I would have led; and Emmett – my main character – seemed to materialise at my shoulder, learning the craft along with me.
At more or less the same time, I was a volunteer with the Samaritans. There I had the privilege of hearing people’s stories, which were often traumatic or painful, and ‘holding’ those stories for them, feeling that my act of listening somehow helped them to heal. But occasionally I’d come across someone who was ‘stuck’ – whose whole life had become defined by a narrative where they were a victim or a villain – and I began to wonder what would happen if I could simply reach out and take that memory away from them, leaving them to begin again. Would I do it, if I could? What would it be like? And what would the wider implications be? It was out of that juxtaposition, I think, that the central idea of The Binding was born: that people can put part of their lives into a book, and walk away remembering nothing. I’ve always been fascinated by memory loss, and the way it can make the simplest things heart-breakingly poignant (I’m haunted by the time my grandfather turned to my mother, after my grandmother’s death, and said, ‘I wonder why Joy doesn’t write to me…’) and so gradually I came to see that this was one way to tell a story about it, and about our sense of identity, about desire, about consumerism – but most of all, about love. After all, The Binding is about two people who find, love and betray each other – although not necessarily in that order… At its heart, it’s shamelessly romantic!
The Binding is my first adult novel, and in some ways it felt like beginning over again, writing for myself without a thought to what would happen once I finished. When I started I didn’t even know what sort of book it was going to be, and so I wrote in a fever of discovery. I always fall in love with my characters, at least a little bit, and I remember the butterflies-in-stomach, broken-sleep, no-appetite joy of writing some of the scenes. I particularly loved taking on the different voices: Emmett has a kind of innocence as he discovers the new world of binding, and his journey of discovery reflects the reader’s; Lucian is more complex, more troubled, and darker. I’ll let you guess which was more fun to write! But perhaps most of all I relished the dynamics of knowing and not-knowing that are constantly at play. There’s hardly a single scene in the book where both the protagonists know everything – so it was a constant challenge to juggle what I knew and what they knew, not giving too much away. Sometimes it was quite tricky to keep it all straight!
It’s always a bit scary when your book comes out. For years it’s been my story, unfolding in the safety of my own head, but now it’ll meet the people who count. I really, really hope that you enjoy The Binding – which, being about books and about lovers, is a book-lover’s book in more ways than one.
Bridget Collins trained as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art after reading English at King's College, Cambridge. She is the author of seven acclaimed books for young adults and has had two plays produced, one at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Binding is her first adult novel.