Pip Adam (photo by Victoria Birkinshaw)
The New Animals is partly about the fashion industry. Is something you’ve wanted to
write about for a while now?
Yeah, I think so. I worked as a
hairdresser for about 15 years and loved it. I first became aware of ‘fashion’
as a living thing in 1992. I’d been hairdressing about seven years and someone
brought in a copy of the Vogue which included Marc Jacobs’ grunge collection.
It was astonishing and exciting for
lots of reasons. I remember a group of us slavering over it out the back of the
salon – like vultures on a corpse. It felt like a life changer. Several of us
were running two wardrobes at the time, one for work in the salon (which was
pretty commercial) and one for the weekends which was all flanel shirts and Doc
Martins. There was a real sense in those photos in Vogue that fashion could be
cataclysmic. Our lives kind of changed over night – the next day I remember
wearing a massive fisherman ribbed jumper and see-through skirt over big black
boots to work. I got this sense then that fashion often starts outside the
fashion industry – that it answers some kind of societal question as well as a
commercial one. It was really exciting. I’m also interested in how fashion is
kind of like art but is so effemeral and also functional. I love design for
Also, I guess, I’m really worried
about the environmental impact of the fashion industry and that dark side of it
really intrigues me too. The way the industry is run by this idea of ‘the new’.
Like clothes become obsolete not because they stop working but because they’re
out of date. I don’t know how this fits with my excitement around fashion.
Maybe that is part of what draws me to it as a subject, the fact thatI can’t comfortably reconcile my love of the
clothes and fashion and the destruction I know it’s causing. So yeah, this
is something I've wanted to write about for a long time, maybe to try and find
some sense in my own contradiction and hypocrisy.
story in The New Animals takes
place over the period of 24 hours on a day in September 2016 in Auckland – how
did this time constraint play into the story and construction of the novel?
Um. Yeah. So, I think it was always
going to be a day, and the only thing I think can be tricky with writing a
story that takes place in one day is that it runs the risk of slipping into an
episodic ryhthm. I guess the real constraint I placed on myself was that it
took place on one particular day. I went to Auckland on this day and ‘walked
the novel’. So I had a timeline of the book and I followed that. One of the
biggest problems in this was that a restaurant I really wanted two of the
characters to eat at, was shut on the day of the novel. I had a real conflict
about whether to include the scene anyway (I had written a scene I really liked
that took place in the restaurant). I decided I wouldn’t. I had set this task
and I wanted to see what happened if I stuck inside the constraints of it. What
happened, as is often the case with constraint, is that I was forced to solve a
problem (possibly the most creative of acts) and something interesting
novel is concerned with many things – the consumerist and throwaway nature of
fashion, the perversity of what is ‘fashionable’ and how we decide that, and –
this is what I think of as a recurring theme throughout your writing – the need
for humans to be involved in meaningful work. Can you talk about this, whether
you see it as one of your themes?
I am really interested in work. I
think it stems from working from a young age. I left school when I was about
fifteen and work has kind of been my life since. Even when I finally got to
university at 21 I still worked. My undergraduate degree took another ten
years, and I always worked. My first jobs were at factories and bakeries and
hairdressing, so I saw the direct result of my work – things got packed, bread
got baked, hair got cut. After university I started getting jobs where the
results weren’t quite so directly observable. Which was a weird experience. I
often felt, in some of these jobs, that work was just this weird game where I
was doing tasks that didn’t produce anything and that the purpose of the game
was to keep me entertained until I died. So yeah, I am really interested in
this idea of work.
This idea of ‘meaningful’ work, or
finding meaning through work, is another interesting thing to me. I feel really
strongly about the way capitalism values some work over others. Like the way we
think people shouldn’t be paid to look after their children or their parents or
their relatives. I find ‘work’ a really problematic thing. One thing I really
struggle with is that, actually, to have ‘meaningful’ work, what does that
mean? So many people are working in such awful conditions for so little money,
there are millions of indentured workers and slaves around the world, and then
there are some of us with this weird opportunity to think, ‘Do I enjoy my job?’
I have so many conflicted thoughts about it and I think a lot of my writing,
like from the start, has been about trying to figure out these things about the
world. So yeah, it’s a theme in me so it’s almost certainly a theme in this
The New Animals has one of the strangest endings I’ve encountered in a long time, and
yet, it feels so right. Without giving anything away, can you explain a little
about this mixture of reality and can we call it ‘fantasy’ aspect of your
writing?It feels like something new for
you, but also entirely in keeping with the sort of formal experimentation
you’ve played with in your short stories and your first novel.
I think the last section of the
book has a lot to do with two books. Janet Frame’s Intensive Care
which Maria McMillan recommended to me and The Martian
by Andy Weir. Frame’s book
is in two halves, the first is a social-realist story and the second is science
fiction. I was really interested in how the two halves talked to each other.
About how what couldn’t be said in the realist part could be said in the book’s
science fiction section. The Martian
a wonderful read about, as probably everyone knows from the movie, a human left
for dead on Mars. The thing I love about The
is that it’s very ‘hard’ science fiction. Survival is on reality’s
terms. No one gets ‘beamed up’.
I’ve read and been in awe of
science fiction from a moment in Dunedin in about 1999 when I met my friend
Jenn Martin in a Victorian English paper and in our first conversation she told
me about Ursula LeGuinn’s The
. If I had my way, I’d be writing science fiction – huge, fat,
trilogies about intergalactic travel.
So to me, that last part of the
novel is a science fiction exercise, not a fantastic one. I read heaps about
human bodies and how they work and don’t work in certain environments. The
science probably doesn’t stand up as strongly as I’d like it to but I hope
there is something in there.
In my mind the ending is trying to
do what Frame did. I got to a point where social realism failed me. I was
unable to say what I needed to say in the contemporary terrestrial setting so I
had to take it somewhere else. The place I took it, like Mars, needed to be the
rule-maker, needed to change bodies and minds in ways that were useful for the
story I was trying to tell.
Pip Adam's third book, The New Animals, is released today. You can buy it at the best bookshops, or through our online bookstore here.
There will be a launch for The New Animals
and for Tim Corballis's time travel novel, Our Future is in the Air
on Tuesday 18 July at Unity Books, Wellington, 6pm on. To receive
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