In order to build up energy for the busy week ahead, leading up the big party launch on Thursday for The Woman Who Drew Buildings I decided to take Sunday off: no writing, no reading, no thinking, no brooding, just a blank mind and a relaxed body.
But my good intentions and Sunday lounging were dive-bombed by Mariella Frostrup interviewing William Boyd on BBC Four’s A Good Read – a genial, articulate interchange full of little plums for all good novelists to gobble up.
Here we go again!
William Boyd is an interesting mixture - laid back, articulate, self possessed - a witness to the Biafran war as a growing child and a product of Gordonstaun, the austere Scottish boarding school . He writes clever, accessible, literary-comic, occasionally darkly-comic novels (First one I read was A Good man in Africa. Brilliant.)
He and Mariella discussed his new novel Ordinary Thunderstorms, his film writing, his other novels, and - best of all - the state of the novel from the inside. His comparison of the importance of the novel vis-a-vis the film was masterly.
There were lots of Plums From The Boyd Basket:
- ‘Fiction is no more a hoax than is historical writing …’
- The novel – although it’s ‘made up’, invented, to achieve authenticity – is the more powerful because history is shaped by forces that the author cannot replicate. (I suppose the proposal here is that a novel is more whole, more capable of delivering a fully worked, authentically imagined truth.)
- To find out about a time or a life, read the fiction of that time. (This pleased me, as it has always been part of the pleasure of the research when I write my stories. For instance as well as all the usual research for my WW2 novel A Thirsting Land, - which has early scenes in Alexandria, - I studied the whole Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell.(Beautiful, well located, complicated, contemporaneous novels.)
- I would also add to that the fact that magazines and newspapers of any modern time can add great, if coded, insight. I have this treasure trove of magazines (see above) from 1939 t0 1945, bought from a junk shop who had acquired them from a farmer’s wife who had stored them for fifty years in a barn …) I studied them, for the same novel.
- Any life is an aggregate of good luck and bad luck. - A perfect firework to light up the structure of a novel.
- He talked of authentic randomness. Another firework! I’ll have to think a little – a lot - more about that.
I have always listened to the radio. Today I was reminded that it is a basket of juicy plums: a whole mountain of plums standing there in the literary market place. Perhaps very good for a writer on a quiet Sunday afternoon. And proof that there’s no rest for the wicked.*
* For the record, I have written a novel called this: No Rest For the Wicked. It starts on the day of the funeral of Sarah Bernhardt in Paris in 1923 and is about this rather picaresque travelling theatrical troop…