The impending environmental destruction of the island of Mancreu is the setting for Harkaway’s Tigerman, where a British army veteran forges a friendship with a teenage boy.
The island of Mancreu is just bizarre enough to be fictional but also seems like it could be real. What inspired you?
It’s never just one thing. In this case, the Chagos Islands were the spark—British legacy possessions that were briefly made notorious by a parliamentary scandal over rendition flights. Then they got muddled up in my mind with Tenerife, and with a small Pugliese town called Locorotondo, and the whole thing became a blend of Casablanca and Mos Eisley.
The definitions of “loyalty” and “family” seem to change continually throughout the story. What appealed to you about the places where these two intersect?
Do you think? That’s interesting. I think they just get clearer as everyone declares the contents of the heart. I’m fascinated by human agency—by the process of decision, both in the individual and the mass. I studied revolutions at university and I think each revolution must begin with a moment of no. If enough people have that moment at the same time, it becomes a movement.
Why did you decide to make comic books such an integral theme?
It wasn’t so much a decision as an inevitable aspect of the whole thing. I am an avid reader of comics, though I came to them late. But I didn’t go looking for a way to tell a comic book story. The setting, the characters, the theme required it. Part of what’s happening in the book, I suppose, is the encounter of different fantasies with the real world.
There are so many countries doing varying degrees of shady of work on Mancreu that it’s difficult to point to one true villain when it comes to assigning blame for the island’s downfall. How was this notion of shared responsibility important to you?
Because it’s absolutely real. The most obvious recent example is the business of the NSA and GCHQ [the British Government Communications Headquarters] using each order to sneak around the statutory restrictions placed upon them by their governments. Executive power in any nation arguably has more in common with executive power in another country than with the citizens it should serve. I’m reading Michael Lewis’s excellent Flash Boys at the moment, and it has the same flavor. Ordinary people are colluded against, globally, by those they should be able to trust.
What kind of research did you do to create your own environmental cesspool?
It was more about tone and than about any single actual incident. The way in which environmental catastrophe is created, banked, and abandoned is consistent across the world, so it’s not hard to fake, alas.