Marissa Bell Toffoli

Interview With Writer Danbert Nobacon

In books, fairy tales, fiction, writing, young adult (YA) on October 4, 2010 at 1:12 pm


Danbert Nobacon

Danbert Nobacon. Photo by Marissa Bell Toffoli (2010).

An introduction to the author of 3 Dead Princes: An Anarchist Fairy Tale (Exterminating Angel Press, 2010). Danbert Nobacon is perhaps more widely known as a musician, but that won’t be true once this first novel of his gets around. A founding member of the anarchist punk band Chumbawamba, Nobacon has also released a few solo albums. His new album Woebegone will be available in a couple of weeks, closely following publication of 3 Dead Princes. The novel also features illustrations by Alex Cox, who is perhaps more widely known as a filmmaker.

Quick Facts on Danbert Nobacon

  • Nobacon’s website
  • Home: Twisp, Washington
  • Comfort food: something savory. Toast with butter or peanut butter.
  • Top reads: Neil Gaiman. Kurt Vonnegut, Jeanette Winterson (especially Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit). I have twins who are ten, so I’ve read the Harry Potter series, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and the Cornelia Funke Inkheart trilogy. Having those worlds in me head made it lot easier to write my book.
  • Current reads: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

What are you working on at the moment?

I have a lot of things I want to be working on, musically and in terms of writing. I have a CD coming out soon, and until that comes out and I finish this book tour I probably won’t be able to get to writing. I have a folder on me computer and there’s like five or six ideas for books. I add a little bit at a time, but the real writing necessitates me sitting down and actually doing it.

Where did the idea for 3 Dead Princes come from?

I had an idea a few years ago for a science fiction story about a future society on Earth after civilization had collapsed. The whole mystery to it was, how had humans survived and evolved? It’s like I took a step backwards from that idea for this book.

I would never have envisaged a fairy tale. Really, Tod [Tod Davies, Nobacon’s editor and publisher] rang me up and said, “Do you fancy writing an anarchist fairy tale?” I said I would have a go. I wrote three chapters and Tod loved it, so I carried on.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I’m very interested in current evolutionary thinking. It seems like in the last ten years it has become a lot more human, rather than focusing on cold science. The idea that science will solve everything I don’t believe. You begin to explain certain phenomena and it throws up other phenomena. It’s just endless. I tried to put into the book the idea that science is not all bad, it’s how you use it.

Who do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?

I think I was writing in terms of teenagers, but it’s really a fairy tale for adults of all ages. I’ve only talked to a few people who’ve read it so far, and they’re all adults.

Where and when do you prefer to write?

I’m fortunate, I’m a stay-at-home dad really. When the children are at school I can write for a few hours. It was mostly late fall and winter when I was writing this book.

Where would you most want to live and write?

I’m pretty spoilt where I am. We [Nobacon and his family] live in a mountain town, and our house is at about 2,000 feet. You can’t really see the neighbors, though they’re not very far away. It’s beautiful and we get four recognizable seasons. We’ll have two or three feet of snow in winter. It’s just idyllic, really. I can’t complain. If I have a little bit of quiet, I can write anywhere. But I prefer to be at home when I’m doing it.

What do you listen to when you work?

Listen? No. If I’m doing business I can, but not if I’m trying to write. I did do some bits while the kids were running around in the background. I’m a lot better than I used to be; I used to want this perfect—[he pauses] well, me own space. I think having children you give up a lot of that and just do it any way you can.

Do you have a philosophy for how and why you write?

Not really, no. This has taught me an incredible amount about writing more economically, and thinking about the story as the main thing rather than what I might be trying to say with it. This was like a first experiment. It really makes me want to do more.

Is there a quote about writing that inspires you?

During the editing, which I find more difficult, I stumbled on one by Kurt Vonnegut. He was talking about short stories and he gives like ten rules. The last one is something like, “ignore all these rules I’ve just given you.”

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

The most basic thing is you’ve got to make the time to sit down and do it. I mean, it’s fine having the creative burst of energy, where the idea is in your head and it’s exciting, and then you wake up the next morning and think it’s not as clever as it seemed the night before. If you can, even for a couple of hours, write and try to get it moving. Get it out and don’t get bogged down by it, then worry about putting it in better shape.

How does writing music fit in with writing books for you?

Maybe because I write songs, which are sort of like short stories in a way, a lot of them, I think of them like good groundwork for making something bigger. It’s funny though, my last album was called The Library Book of the World, and it came from all this stuff I’d been writing for the band website related to 9/11 and other news. Now, my new record [Woebegone] is actually a fictional narrative, based on a fictional book—fictional in the sense that I haven’t written it, and if I did write it, it would be a novel. I wanted to put odd paragraphs in with the lyrics and it ended up as a 24-page booklet in with the CD.

What book do you wish you owned a first edition of?

I recently reread The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I’d say something like that.

What question do you find surprising that people ask about this book?

People were interested in the made-up words, and the Gricklegrack in particular. I actually made up the Gricklegrack a long time ago. I was on this camping trip with friends, sitting around the campfire late at night playing Dictionary. It came to me and I thought, “oh, my God, I can’t read it. I need glasses. I’ll just have to make something up.” The Gricklegrack sprang to mind and I gave them the definition. Of course, in the morning it came out that I’d made it up.

Is there a question that you wish people would ask more often about your work?

I’m happy if people ask about the ideas or the characters, where they came from.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I watch a lot of films. We don’t have TV, well we have a TV, but not channels; it’s just to watch films. I like outdoor kinds of stuff. I’ve always been a runner. I’m especially into hill running. I broke me leg skiing, and I’m almost healed but not quite. I love skiing and snowboarding, which I had never done before moving to the States. I also spent a lot of time gardening this year.

About Danbert Nobacon

Danbert Nobacon is an author, singer, songwriter, and comedian. He was a founding member of the band Chumbawamba. He loves children and animals. 3 Dead Princes is his first book.

[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer Danbert Nobacon.” Words With Writers (October 4, 2010),

3 Dead Princes by Danbert Nobacon

3 Dead Princes by Danbert Nobacon (Exterminating Angel Press, 2010).

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