He’s an award-winning, internationally bestselling author, but this is his first visit to BEA. So do make James Meek feel welcome when he signs his forthcoming novel, The Heart Broke In, for Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the Macmillan booth.

“We have book fairs in Europe—the London Book Fair and Frankfurt,” notes the London-based author, “but I always felt they were all about publishers. Writers are not the best people to have around when publishers are trying to cut deals!”

Meek has written four novels—two of which (The People’s Act of Love and We Are Now Beginning Our Descent) won literary awards—and two short story collections. The Heart Broke In, he says, “is about families and betrayal within families, but on a deeper level it’s about right and wrong: in a postreligious world, when people have to decide how to behave, it’s very much about where rightness and wrongness come from. Is it inherited from your parents, is it something you imitate, or do you have to invent it?”

The author’s inspiration came from thinking about the power of families. “With the economic crisis, everyone talks about government and banks. Yet when I was in London in 2006, somehow I discovered a place called the Family Office—[a planning consortium] for superrich families. A woman there told me, ‘A really smart family will plan for 100 years ahead.’ Then I went to Lagos, Nigeria, the fastest-growing city in the world, to see a city in the middle of a population explosion. The city was growing because it was... just happening. Again: family forces. So whatever kind of place you come from, you can’t get away from this thing that has nothing to do with the political choices you make.”

Another catalyst for the novel is “because I’m a Christian atheist—but I’m not interested in works like [those of] Richard Dawkins to show me there is no God; I need someone to show me how to behave. People who do not believe in God are not excused from having to make moral choices, and you are a poor novelist, or poor human being, if you don’t examine what kind of a moral framework we have—or what it means to be living, loving, and having a family in a nonreligious world or one in which it is at least permitted not to believe. I don’t share the belief of the believers, but I do understand them when they say, Why be good? Why have children? Some philosophers have looked at these issues, but it hasn’t trickled down to Joe Atheist.”