Review: Natasha Pulley in discussion with the NCLA on ‘The Lost Future of Pepperharrow’
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (Bloomsbury, 2020) is the extraordinary sequel to the award winning international bestseller, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley
Readers are transported to Japan, where time, destiny and love collide to electrifying effect.
Pulley shared a brilliant reading from her novel, reading from the introduction of ‘The Lost Future of Pepperharrow’ which outlines an exciting, vibrant Japan which is just about to become a superpower.
At the end of March Natasha’s bubbly personality came out as she discussed the highs and lows of writing a time-travelling novel in an exclusive event hosted by the NCLA. This historical, yet speculative, narrative made for an ambiguous and enjoyable read. Natasha states that 90% of the novel was completely true, with “that extra 10% pushing it a little bit further”. She was pleased that the novel reads as a speculative and hard to read work of fiction. In my opinion, this only works to make the real history more astonishing, when uncovered by the reader
When asked about the moral backgrounds behind writing about these real characters, Natasha suggested that, if they were still alive, it would have posed more of a moral conundrum. However, as her characters had passed, she had more liberty when distorting their history. One example she discussed was former Japanese Prime Minister Kiyotaka Kuroda, who despite being a “bastard, crazy, nationalist” was also a “real guy” who was rather “funny”. Natasha stated that “trying to write someone history hasn’t looked on kindly was very difficult, as there was an authorial urge to treat characters well”.
Time is a major theme of Natasha’s novels, with her love of “timey-wimey” books inspiring her passion for the “endlessly malleable theme”. Whether it be ‘loss of time’, ‘time travel’ or literally having a novel dedicated to a watchmaker, her novels have a certain devotion to science fiction. Pulley spoke out and suggested she was heavily inspired by the likes of Sherlock Holmes, as well as Robin Hobbs’s fantasy writing.
All Natasha’s novels are based in the 19th century, and when asked if she had ever considered writing a contemporary novel, she teased a new project set during 1960s Russia. It will be interesting to see how Natasha adapts to a new time frame, and fans of her work will eagerly await its release.
The session concluded with questions from the audience:
Q: This book ripped out my heart in a good way. I don’t think I’ve ever read something so beautiful yet painful about yearning. Did it hurt you to write on miscommunication, and why do you think mutual pining is so key to the queer experience?
A: What a question! It was very difficult to write as every paragraph made me cry. In many ways it was also easy to write as it’s very much my experience of being in a relationship. I think it’s vital to the queer experience as it’s not like, in this time period, you can come out and ask someone “Are you gay?”. It’s a very problematised behaviour, and in that culture, you could be greatly punished for that. This is something that Daniel and Muri never talk about and never speak about it. Daniel for very western reasons, and Muri for very Japanese reasons. It is the love that dare not speak its name. I felt it was important to write that.
Q: Do you map out your fantastic plot-twists? Or do you discover them as they emerge?
A: I do discover them as they emerge. I wish I did plot them out, but I don’t! One of the important things to let yourself do when you write is to give yourself space to let something appear on the page. Sometimes it’s nonsense, but other times something unexpected happens. My best writing comes from the unexpected. I resign myself to the fact I’m doomed to wait.
Natasha Pulley read English Literature at Oxford before completing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. In 2013 she went to Japan on a scholarship from the Daiwa Anglo Japanese Foundation. Pulley lived in Tokyo for a year and a half, learning Japanese and researching her debut novel The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.
Laura Tisdall is a writer and historian and is currently a Leverhulme Early Career/Newcastle University Academic Track Fellow in History working on childhood, youth and age in twentieth-century Britain
Tom Moorcroft, the author of this post, is a 3rd year English Literature and History student, currently on placement with the NCLA