Show 013: November 2008
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In this month's show:
I’ve just finished working at the Ilkley Festival and have been very struck by my meeting well known people face to face and how different they seem to how you imagine them. I met Katherine Whitehorn, Observer journalist for many decades, at the train station as I about to catch a train back to Leeds. I had just been picking up some food for dinner that evening from Marks and Spencer and wished that I had met her ten minutes before, so she [the author of the very famous Cooking in a Bedsitter] could have given me some advice about what to have chosen. Our chance meeting and chat meant that we met as old friends the next day, and got on like a house on fire for the event I hosted with her.
The previous day I had bumped into Xinran at Leeds City Station on her way to Ilkley and the event we were doing together. She is the author of China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation and we chatted on the train like old friends, touching on the fascinating fact that she was Mary Wesley’s daughter in law, and nursed Mary Wesley in her last weeks. She paid tribute to the writer’s influence on her.
I think in both cases I was struck by how much smaller these writers were in real life...
I discovered on meeting David at Ilkley that the character of Neil Countryman who narrates The Other has much in common with the biographical outline of David Guterson’s life. The friendship between Neil and the much more privileged John William Barry, which endures as Neil settles for a conventional college education, a wife and children, while John William becomes more and more a hermit, is the core of the novel. There is also a sense that the landscape, always present in Guterson’s novels is an important other character in the book.
The Other is a beautiful and fascinating novel.
This is an edited extract from an interview with Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, Gentlemen and Players and The Lollipop Shoes.
I always enjoyed writing as a child, and as an adult, but never considered it as a proper job. It was a hobby.
I have no idea why so many people liked Chocolate, my third novel, it was deeply unfashionable at the time, being an unashamedly feel good book, a fairy-story, at a time when most writing was minimalist.
It was not difficult writing a new book after Chocolat. I had so many ideas, but i knew I was not writing Chocolat 2.
I feel very privileged to be able to write for a living, but I am lucky in that I liked my former career as a teacher too. I had to wait some time before I wrote Gentlemen and Players, set in a large school. I think I was waiting to get some essential distance on the school and possibly also waiting for some of my former colleagues to die.
I have a lot of diverse influences, my French family scattered all over France and my Yorkshire roots. There has been a lot of positive response to my treatment of these different aspects of my life.
I was lucky that my view of the casting of the film Chocolat pretty well coincided with the view of the film-makers, so finally by some kind of weird synchronicity we ended up with dream casting of Juliette Binoche. When a film is made from your book, you have handed it to others, and you should just enjoy the ride.
I think my fans are pretty well ready to follow me anywhere I go with my writing. They didn’t pressure me into writing a follow up to Chocolat, which is probably why eventually I was able to.
Rune Marks is a book for everybody. I would be reluctant to target it at a teenage market. It is a fantasy novel, and most of my readers are adults.
Reading is an integral part of the writing process. It’s not a question of making time to read, it just feels natural. Though sometimes reading for reviews or competitions feel like homework.
My books often touch on the idea of community and how volatile it can be, on town versus country, on folk lore and fairy-tale, on cooking, and motherhood and children. Some of these threads follow me throughout all my writing.
I’m writing a sequel to Rune Marks, because my daughter liked the book so much, and I’m also writing another novel which is a bit of a mystery to me. I’m discovering the novel as i write it. I’m not always sure how my books are going to end. This present one is a rather dark and chilling psychological thriller. I think if a writer surprises themselves, there’s a chance that the reader will be surprised too.
Poem of the Month
I was commissioned by Bradford Libraries to write a poem about reading some years ago. After much perplexity I realised that when I read a book or poem I want to read about people’s lives, and I wrote a poem about someone’s life I had witnessed casually from the train, or at least the bits of it that I could see. Read Soft Covers.