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Litro: Tell us about your latest book, The Humans. It features an alien narrator, sent to Earth in the disguise of mathematics professor Andrew Martin. Why was this a story that you felt compelled to tell?
Matt: It was a story I had in my mind since way before I was a published author. It just never let go. I just thought it was the best way of looking at our species, and to look at all that is good about us.
Litro: Families and family relationships often feature heavily in your novels, and this is no exception. What appeals to you about the family dynamic?
Matt: I honestly don’t know. I try and write with as much power as I can muster, and somehow this always sends me back to family stories. I suppose we all have family, family defines us. It is the first and most crucial thing we ever know. Plus it’s that thing of people being related but not necessarily having that much in common. All those tensions. And the strange and powerful nature of family love.
Litro: You also seem to like telling these stories from unusual perspectives: an alien visitor, a dog… what appeals to you about assuming this outsider status?
Matt: We live our lives too up-close to our own existence, and kind of miss the wood for the trees. I think, well, we’re only here once, so let’s look at this thing called life, called us, called humanity, and what’s the best way to look at something big? To take a big step back. These strange perspectives give me the biggest step back I can think of.
Litro: What can you tell us about your own upbringing, and your own family. Do you have siblings? How important is family in your own life?
Matt: I have a younger sister Phoebe. We were – and are – very close. My mum was adopted, and I think she’s passed down to me some of that anxiety about identity and where I fit in in the world. I now have a family of my own. Two kids, Lucas and Pearl. So I’m always wondering what it means to be a good father, and how I can be a better one. It makes you live inside the present and the future all at once because you think this could be their first/best memory. It overwhelms me sometimes, parenthood.
Litro: As well as immediate family, authors often rely on extended support networks. Who helps support and inspire you in your writing?
Matt: Well I am inspired by other writers. I love Graham Greene. For mind-sharpening and prose-tightening nothing beats a quick blast of Lorrie Moore. I have a wonderful editor at Canongate – Francis Bickmore, who is sharp and wise and helps steer me in the right literary direction.
Litro: The Humans has been referred to as science fiction, but you have been resistant to this label. Why do you think that it shouldn’t be considered sci-fi?
Matt: Because it is too lazy and literal and I hate labels. I think people who are really into sci-fi wouldn’t really like this book. I think it is a book that non science fiction people like more. So while it is science fiction it doesn’t feel like science fiction. If you go solely on plot then it is science fiction, but plot is such a tiny bit of what a book actually is, that I think we need better labelling systems. I’d go for Philosophical Literary Tragi-comic Fantasy Fable but that is too long and pretentious. So let’s just say ‘a novel’.
Litro: Christmas is seen by many as a very family-orientated time of year. What are your plans for the festive season?
Matt: God knows. I don’t make the plans in our house. I just go with the flow. I’m sure it will involve family and slightly stifled conversations with extended family members and unhealthy eating. Oh, I’ve just remembered! We’re going out for Christmas dinner, so no cooking is involved. Plus I am taking Lucas to see a special screening of Elf in a museum, so that will be nice.
Matt Haig was born in 1975. His debut novel, The Last Family in England, was a UK bestseller. The Dead Fathers Club, an update of Hamlet featuring an eleven-year-old boy, and The Possession of Mr Cave, a horror story about an overprotective father, are being made into films and have been translated into numerous languages. A film of The Radleys is in production with Alfonso Cuaron. Matt has lived in London and Spain, and now lives in York with the writer Andrea Semple and their two children.