'When writing it's just you, the wall and whoever your first reader is . . .'
“I spent a lot of time knocking around with older kids from the farm next door. There’s a great line from a Tom Waits song, ‘there’s always lots of killing has to be done down on the farm’, whether it’s the elimination of pests, or traps, or accidents. It’s not some idealised vision of the countryside. It’s hard and practical and quite tough.”
In the book, the portrait of nature as malign is turned up – as the rock fraternity might put it – to 11. Is Murphy’s a black view, both of nature and of human nature?
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a dark view of the world so much as a practical, realistic one,” he says. “Maybe the Earth doesn’t like us. Maybe we’re a virus. Maybe we’ve stepped outside a state of biological co-dependence or harmony. Maybe we’re now just a malign presence on the planet, and maybe we’re going to get burnt off.
“Maybe we don’t belong here any more, in which case, it makes sense to look upon the environment as hostile.”
He pauses, looks up, grins. “Though it never was exactly sugar and spice, was it? Hurricanes and floods and things are not exactly new.”
Shall We Gather at the River by Peter Murphy is published by Faber and Faber
Playlist for a novel: What Murphy listened to while writing
Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Nebraska
“The rage in those records really moved me when I was a kid. The songs seemed to be about small places, or about being trapped – in your body, in your car, in your circumstances.”
The Who, Baba O’Riley
“The way Roger Daltrey sings, ‘It’s a teenage wasteland’. The incredible intensity between 16 and 21 – a dangerous time for anyone, but particularly for a young bull of a male. Having all that aggression, and not having an outlet for it. It’s all there in this rock’n’roll classic.”
Terry Riley, A Rainbow in Curved Air
“This is what inspired Pete Townshend to write Baba O’Riley; those beautiful recurring electro-patterns.”
Manic Street Preachers, Faster
“As mentioned, it was an interview with the band – and listening to their music – which inspired this book.”
Elvis Presley, Blue Moon
“There are two versions. This is the one without the bridge. It’s much eerier. It sounds like it was recorded on Mars. And the vocal on it is the most wraith-like, ghostly sound I’ve ever heard. What a singer.”