I’ve been interviewed a few times now. That part of my life and thoughts which pertains to writing has been explored beyond all relation to its importance or interest. It’s as if a group of botanists descends on my back yard to study it, mark out a square metre of ground and then pore over it, one by one, ignoring all the rest of the garden. And I think that, in a few months’ time, I will be asked to examine that little patch of ground again because I have a new publisher and, by then, a new book will be out.
It’s a strange phenomenon – especially for someone as private as I am – to talk about myself to strangers (this blog doesn’t count, of course, because you are all dear friends) and stranger still to keep that talk so constrained and circumscribed. Yet I am always very happy to do it because I have the fond belief that someone, reading or listening to one of these interviews one day, may just find me so overwhelmingly fascinating that they will buy one of my books before the bedazzlement wears off.
I’ve read a fair number of author interviews myself. After a while, though, they all start to feel very samey. “What’s your book about?” (“It’s an exploration of the life of a Brahmin cow who finds herself teleported into Eighteenth Century Vienna and must cope with love and loss even as she climbs the ladder of musical success in the court of Emperor Joseph II.”) “Where did the idea come from?” (“Well, I think we’ve all wondered just how much nonsense a writer of literary fiction can get away with.”) “Tell us about the protagonist.” (“Ermintrude is a gentle, gifted soul, torn between her love of grass and her need to express the music that burns in her heart.”) And so on. Perhaps there is a group of readers for which the answers to these questions are interesting. However, I think if I had a writer under the microscope, I’d want to probe him or her in different ways.
Thus, I have created ten questions that I would like to ask authors and which I hope no-one ever asks me.
- If the world stopped publishing books today, there would still be so many millions of them already in existence that no-one could possibly hope to read a tiny fraction of them in their lifetime. So why add more?
- A possible answer to the last question is, “Because I have a unique and valuable perspective on life that I feel would be valuable for others to be exposed to.” But isn’t that just egomania?
- Writing takes up so much time, hundreds and hundreds of hours per book, not to mention all the time devoted to finding agents, finding publishers, attending conventions, online social networking, reading and critiquing for writers’ groups, and publicising books. Wouldn’t all that time be better spent with your family?
- I think the reason authors have, in the past, had so much kudos, is that they have tried, and sometimes succeeded in the attempt, to say something profound and true about the human condition. If you can’t show us in your own work, insights equivalent to those in the work of Kipling, Dickens, Huxley, Bradbury, or le Guin, why do you even bother?
- Given the plethora of media these days, the incredible opportunity, for the first time in human history, to create multi-dimensional, interactive, non-linear, works that exploit these new and unprecedented capabilities, why are you still plonking down words, one after the other, in strings of a hundred thousand or more, the same way people have done since Homer? Doesn’t that reveal a lack of imagination?
- OK, I accept that you write just because you enjoy doing it but, given that we all know how infinitesimally small the chances are of ever making a decent income from such exertions, why do you waste your time seeking publication? Wouldn’t you be better off just doing the writing bit and buying lottery tickets?
- You’ve probably started admitting to people, when they press you to know what you do, that you’re a writer. You’ve probably even written it on a form at the dentist’s. You do it with such self-effacement and even a light blush, but, in you’re secret heart, you hope that people will be impressed. There’s no question here. I just want to see you squirm.
- Look, you’re a human being. Now, I’m only guessing, but I’d say you’ve walked past tramps without giving them anything, you’ve had impure thoughts about co-workers and their family members, you’ve laughed at sexist jokes, and racist jokes, you’ve said unkind things about people behind their backs, you’ve been petty, narrow-minded, jealous, shallow, and, since you were old enough to hold a magazine or a romance novel, you’ve masturbated. So why isn’t your protagonist like that?
- Like many writers who are just beginning to taste success, you’re getting on a bit. Obviously you’ve had a long and successful career as a civil servant which has supported your two spouses and four children and, it’s only now that the kids – like your two spouses – have left home and no longer speak to you that you finally have the time to devote to writing but, honestly, don’t you think that shows a lack of commitment to your art? Doesn’t it seem as if writing is more like a hobby to you?
- Tell us something about your new novel, “Troll Slayer of G’Mah”. Is it as trashy and formulaic as the title makes it sound, or is there a surprise in store for lovers of delicately-crafted, political allegory?