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NEW YORK — He’s no Austin Powers, but Stuart David, novelist and former bassist for Belle & Sebastian, is certainly an international man of mystery. And the self-proclaimed hermit and Glaswegian author, whose debut novel, “Nalda Said,” will bow in the U.S. in April, is anything but the typical pop star. More like a Scottish J.D. Salinger, he lives in a remote house deep in Scotland’s woods, married his wife after being pen pals for eight years, and has never even met his own publicist, with whom he communicates by e-mail. Rumors circulated recently that he had disappeared altogether, fueled by cryptic messages left on his Web site, looper.info, chronicling his new band, Looper, which has since gone on hiatus.
His haunting fairy tale, “Nalda Said,” was released in the U.K. in 1999 and has since been translated into six languages. The story follows a nameless, uneducated man whose secluded upbringing by his delusional, story-telling Aunt Nalda leaves him believing he has a priceless jewel inside him that others want to possess. Suffering from the weight of his secret and an incurable shyness, he is unable to form any human relationships for fear of being looted or possibly killed for his jewel. He runs away if anyone comes close. When he falls in love, the outcome is tragic.
In 2001, David released another novel in the U.K., “The Peacock Manifesto,” whose main character, Peacock Johnson, some say, has become David’s real-life alter ego. WWD contacted this elusive author by e-mail and got to the bottom of what his publicist calls David’s “hermit schtick.”
WWD: “Nalda Said” reads like a fairy tale, yet it doesn’t have a happy ending. Why not?
David: The main reason was to emphasize just how strongly he believed in what he’d been brought up to believe. To show just how deep rooted these things are, and how hard they are to surmount. It also seemed to me to be the truth of what would happen in that situation. I didn’t want to kid anybody on.
WWD: Love is supposed to overcome anything — except, apparently, shyness and paranoia. What is the main character’s incurable disease?
This story first appeared in the March 20, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
David: I think that love can overcome anything, but I also think that to a certain extent, it’s temporary. Falling in love as an adult often shows you how things can be, and for a period you can live that way.
WWD: There are rumors that you’ve disappeared. Have you?
David: That was all to do with my most recently published novel, “The Peacock Manifesto.” I continued the narrative of it beyond the end of the book, trying to use some nontraditional ways of telling the story — like the press and the Internet, and live events. And then we carried the characters on through into the last Looper album a bit, too.
WWD: How do you compare to the reclusive character in “Nalda Said”?
David: What I often do with my characters is just magnify some aspects of my own personality, and then totally disregard others, and then put that into a situation and see what would happen. I have my own shyness and my own paranoia, I think. But it’s just a case of how that’s balanced with other things.
WWD: What purpose does Aunt Nalda serve in the story?
David: I suppose the most obvious thing that Nalda represents would be any form of organized belief system, that is passed on and not questioned. Whether that be a belief in a particular political party, or in a particular organized religion. Anything like that. I think everyone has had a Nalda-like influence in their life. I think everyone believes certain things that whoever brought them up passed on, that might not be particularly true.
WWD: What’s the moral of the story?
David: I wouldn’t say my outlook is bleak, but I think quite a brutal honesty is required to overcome certain things. With ‘Nalda Said,’ it’s not so much me saying, ‘This is how things are,’ so much as, ‘This is what can happen.’ I’d hope it’s more a cautionary tale than anything else.