BOOKS Ned Beauman

Joining the dots between east London, quantum physics and Nazis on Ketamine

Arts+Culture Q+A
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East London, quantum physics, Weimar-era berlin, not getting fucked for love nor money: wondering what on earth connects the spurious dots here? The answer is The Teleportation Accident – one of the freshest, most exciting and darkly comic novels written in recent years – and its author Ned Beauman.

Written in the
 uniquely ambivalent authorial voice that had Beauman’s first novel (Boxer, Beetle) shortlisted for several prominent prizes, The Teleportation Accident’s blurring of fact and fiction oozes confidence, resulting in the definitive historical novel for people that detest the genre. Its creation, at this early point in his career, has cemented Beauman as both a promising voice for the future of the written word and a force to be acknowledged in the here and now.

Dazed Digital: You had some
success with Boxer, Beetle, making The Teleportation Accident the ‘difficult second novel’. Did you feel the pressure, particularly?
Ned Beauman: Most of the prizes I got shortlisted for were for first novels – those are ruled out now, and
 a lot of the best reviews were mostly premised on the pleasant surprise of finding an interesting new voice, I think. So that’s ruled out as well. If anything, it’s worse than starting from scratch, but there’s an extent to which the new book is a reaction to the ways that the first was received: a lot of the things that people found annoying about the first book, I’ve deliberately emphasised in the second book.

DD: Things like the sexual content? One reviewer called it ‘gobsmackingly smutty’...
Ned Beauman: Yes, although there are no actual sex scenes in this book.

If I picked up a copy of Boxer, Beetle in a bookshop and read the blurb or the first few pages I don’t think I’d buy it. Hopefully there’s enough going on in the new book that, in the same situation, I would pay for it – and I think I would

DD: And yet the book is full of sexual imagery and innuendo – was that a conscious decision?
Ned Beauman: Yeah. So much of The Teleportation Accident is about (protagonist Egon) Loeser not getting laid that when he actually does, I made sure it happened between chapters to better emphasise the fact that it turns out not to be that important after all. None of the other characters were likely to get any action either. So, no sex.

DD: How do you reconcile topics like quantum physics, Nazism and sexual deprivation?
Ned Beauman: I was reading another book, City of Quartz, by Mike
 Davis – it’s about the history of Los Angeles – and there was a small extract about a scientist working at Caltech. Things really just evolved from there. If I hadn’t been reading that book then this novel probably would never have happened.

DD: So, there’s some 
truth in the scientific elements 
of the 
novel?
Ned Beauman: Some – but not teleportation. 
As far as I know 
there was no teleportation
 device, but it was
 such a ludicrous 
time and place
 there could well 
have been people working on it. Only in California or Moscow – it just couldn’t happen anywhere else.

DD: There are quite a few similarities between Boxer, Beetle and your new novel; they’re set in similar time periods and touch on similar subjects – how do you set them apart?
Ned Beauman: If I picked up a copy of Boxer, Beetle in a bookshop and read the blurb or the first few pages I don’t think I’d buy it. Hopefully there’s enough going on in the new book that, in the same situation, I would pay for it – and I think I would.

DD: A successful first novel, and a second on the way – was there a point at which you realised you had transitioned to being an ‘author’?
Ned Beauman: It happened as
 soon as I quit my
 job, a few months 
after I got the deal
 for Boxer, Beetle.
 My job before was
 working three days a 
week at Another
Man, so it wasn’t
 exactly tyranny. But 
there’s no reason to
 think it will continue forever. At the moment I can afford to write full-time as long as I maintain approximately the same level of success. But at some point, maybe soon, I will want to spend more than two years writing a book, and at some point there will be some economic change which will mean not getting the same advances. I don’t expect to live like this forever.

DD: Is it possible to get by as an author just by writing novels these days?
Ned Beauman:
I do quite a few events, but most of them are just a few hours in the evening, and festivals are pretty fun. There is a difference between the US and the UK: in the UK the publisher still puts a lot of resources into publicity, but in the US they can’t afford that any more.

DD: Being from London, have you noticed that it’s a lot more difficult out there for authors at the moment?
Ned Beauman: I wasn’t around ten years ago, but I get the impression that publishing is a lot more rationalised now – there’s less of the ‘midlist’, so unless you’re doing major things they’re not going
to keep buying book after book when you only sell a few thousand copies, and let you be subsidised forever by their really successful authors. It’s like you’re a failing line of vacuum cleaners at an electronics company – they’ll stop producing you almost immediately.

DD: There is a spattering of ‘real’ historical figures in the novel, but compared to your own characters they seem completely two-dimensional – why include them at all?
Ned Beauman: I’ve always hated those historical novels where the characters are consistently bumping into exaggerated versions of those kind of figures – I wanted to send that up in the novel. I had a rule that I could include ‘real’ characters but they’d never be centre-stage; they’d never have any real dialogue.

DD: I get the 
impression 
that the
 depiction of
 Berlin in The Teleportation Accident isn’t all it seems – is there a bit of the east-London
 scene in
 there?
Ned Beauman: Definitely – Berlin, as it appears in the novel, is a parody of what 
the east-London scene was a few years ago: everyone knows everyone, everyone’s slept with 
everyone 
– it’s 
borderline incestuous. It’s one of
 the reasons I
 had them all
 doing ketamine
 – that’s not
 exactly historically accurate – and
 the character of
Brecht is based on one prominent figure in particular from that scene. My next book, though, the one
 that I’m working on now, is actually set in London.

DD: Can you tell us much about it at this point?
Ned Beauman: Not a lot – except that
 it addresses more directly some of the same questions that are touched on in The Teleportation Accident. Namely, what do you do when all the good drugs run out?

DD: You’re out in New York at the moment. Are there any parallels you can draw from that city that will work in the same way as Berlin and Los Angeles do in this novel?
Ned Beauman: I don’t think so. It’s a very different experience. The other day I was wandering around listening to the latest burial EP, but it was so jarring – it doesn’t work at all in the context of New York.
 It’s a real testament to artists like him, that they can evoke the feel and spirit of a place that’s in such a constant state of flux so vividly. It’s just unfortunate that this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to write about London and I’m not there. but we’ll see – hopefully it works.

Photo by Dylan Forsberg

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