The book comically has gripes with the modern state of affairs, which spans across everything from surveillance, politics, journalism, gang mentality and academia to gadgetry and if you’re allowed to take your phone out while chatting in a pub. But there’s genuine concern which goes beyond simply being reactionary- Why did you feel it important to challenge these things?

Because I think modernity, its instruments, its conceit, its presumption in speaking for all of us, is a monster. Of course, we all have clean water and the vote – in the western world, at least. But individuality (genuine individuality) and the soul are hated, since they can’t be rationalised – or told what to buy. Meanwhile, our thirst increases, we cannot breathe for the grit of numbers.

With an air of horrible achievement, people talk about ‘kick-starting’ the day, or their ‘energy levels’, as if existence were now fully mechanical and metred. In public life, no one speaks in sentences; they conduct the traffic of their own meaning, they wave their hands, and emit messages. It’s uncool to say things slowly.

I would like British Story to slow things down a bit.

In both La Rochelle and British Story there are often uncanny coincidences which propel the story forward. Mountain even says at one point, ‘The coincidence is the story.’ Why is coincidence so prominent in your writing?

To annoy statisticians.

Or you could say it’s a preservation of the romance, where characters happen upon each other just as the story needs.

But it’s also part of the waking dream.

By the way, people who have long memories experience coincidence frequently …
‘Nothing disappears/ Though all is rearranged’!

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