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Children of Paradise: A Q & A with Camilla Grudova

PART OF THE In the Summertime ISSUE

‘The films each chapter are named after were an inspiration. I try to hide a bit of each film in the book for people who have seen those films.’

When Holly applies for a job at the Paradise – one of the city’s oldest cinemas – she thinks it will be like any other job, and yet… The secrets and happenings of the Paradise go much deeper than she could ever expect. Camilla Grudova talks to Books from Scotland about her new novel.

 

Children of Paradise
By Camilla Grudova
Published by Atlantic Books

 

Can you tell us a little bit of what we can expect from Children of Paradise?

It’s a novella about cinema workers and the building of the cinema as a character. I named it after the film by Marcel Carne.

 

It’s quite a different style and premise than that of The Doll’s Alphabet. How did you find writing a novel vs short stories? How did you approach the writing of this one?

I wrote this one very slowly, starting as soon as I got a job as the Cameo cinema in Edinburgh, because the building itself is so alluring, but it wasn’t until we were all laid off during the pandemic that I had enough distance from it to write about it and turn it into the Paradise. Writing short stories is a lot easier for me, a lot more natural, Children of Paradise is quite short. I don’t think I will ever write a Tolstoy length novel. Maybe if I didn’t have day jobs, I would go all Proustian, who knows.

 

You have worked in cinemas in the past – how did this influence the book? What is it about cinemas that makes them ripe for exploration?

Yes, I worked at the Cameo and currently work at a different cinema. I think because they are dreamy dying places, the pandemic really showed they are on their last legs, I like them for the same reason I like swimming pools, you get away from your phone and the world and just become immersed in an image or water. It was a literary challenge as well, how do you write a story about people sitting silently in the dark?

In general, all my work is interested in labour and money, and particularly low paid labour and the people like myself in those positions and the influence of that on the soul, body, mind, and the heart.

 

What inspired you for this book? What influences made their way in?

The films each chapter are named after were an inspiration. I try to hide a bit of each film in the book for people who have seen those films. There are not many novels with cinemas in them, but Laughter in the Dark by Nabokov, and Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen were inspirations, and Robert Coover’s A Night at the Movies and a children’s book called Martha the Movie Mouse by Arnold Lobel which had the poetic vibe I wanted to use – I like children’s books from the 90s, 70s, 80s, 50s. And of course, I was taking notes on all my cinema shifts.

 

The Paradise is a place of many secrets; the oddballs within its walls also appearing quite cryptic on the face of it. Do you enjoy building mystery and layers to people and places in fiction? How do you approach bringing such dimension to the story and its inhabitants?

I don’t think I consciously try to bring mystery, I feel myself a visual rather than psychological writer, but also especially in the UK I don’t think the upper classes think or believe that people economically below them have inner lives or souls, so it’s important for me to hopefully show the imperfect and interesting souls of these workers. I was working an event recently when a posh customer said ‘thank you for seeing me, the other bartenders don’t see me’, but really I used a mirror with hands to open a bottle of prosecco for her, like some sort of creature from Beauty and the Beast. She didn’t see me. But at the same time, I don’t want her to see me, I hate when customers ask my name, I like to be a utilitarian flaneur taking in bits and details of people and feeding it into the Literature Machine.

Also, at the Cameo I remember a colleague had a customer say to her ‘I bet you know nothing about opera’ when we had an opera screening when in fact that colleague of mine was in depth on opera research for a writing project we were doing together, but it’s almost more satisfying not telling the customer that. As a person I don’t want to be anything or anyone, a quiet servant of literature, a reader and writer. I think authors have too much of a public personality perhaps and their work is constantly being read in relation to their public persona and people get quite annoyed if there isn’t one to do that with. I think maybe also in terms of writing there is pressure for everything to be solved and wrapped up, the crime novel I think dominates the whole of fiction writing industry and there is less room for eternal and metaphysical mysteries, and even the sad little mysteries of everyday life that will forever allude us.

 

What are you reading just now?

Belladonna by Daša Drndić, The Foundation Pit by Andrei Platonov.

 

What do you hope readers take from Children of Paradise?

Some memorable images I suppose, maybe to sneak into their dream life. I don’t have any political or moral messages in my work.

 

Children of Paradise  by Camilla Grudova is published by Atlantic Books, priced £14.99.

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