Why author interviews?

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I’m working on transferring my collected author interviews from Bluestalking’s former Typepad location over here to WordPress, so if you’re seeing a million tweets announcing each post, that’s why. Sorry for that, in advance. I’ve been trying to close the Typepad site since last June; clearly I’m not moving very quickly on that resolution. I passed embarrassing a long time ago. Now I’ve entered the arena of the pathetic. It sure ain’t going to happen magically. Time to suck it up and get to work.

Speaking of author interviews, a few days ago I found an article in The New Yorker asking why readers care about author interviews, and why writers should have to put up with being treated like any other celebrity. Hannah Rosefield writes:

It makes good commercial sense for publishers, journalists, and bookshops to promote author interviews. But these do not explain public interest in such interviews, or why we want our novelists to be celebrities. We have, after all, so many other celebrities to think about—celebrities whose jobs, if they have jobs, make for better stories than sitting alone moving words about on a screen. So why not spare novelists the burden of becoming public figures? Why not let them slope off to write their books in private, for the few souls left who read them?

(And, hey oh, there’s another stab at the decline of reading!)

Personally, and I know I’m not alone in this, when I read a great book I’m keen to pick the author’s brain, to learn what makes him or her tick: their background, philosophy of writing, influences, etc. As for attention being a burden, authors high-profile enough to be sought out generally employ agents, who act as intermediaries between interviewers and their clients. I regularly go through agents to request interviews. They’re polite, prompt and accommodating. But neither am I adverse to contacting writers themselves. It’s about being polite and respectful of the author’s time, without going all weird and Misery about it.

Few writers turn down the opportunity for an interview. I’ve never experienced anything but enthusiasm in return for a request for their time. Publishers have less income dedicated to paying PR agents and marketers, so it’s a win/win for them getting the free exposure offered by bloggers and indie reviewers.

To be fair, I imagine it gets a bit old answering the same questions over and over. I try to vary things, asking less usual questions along with the standard every reader wants to know about. Also, I don’t keep after them if there’s a delay, assuming it’s not for a publication and there’s no firm deadline. Again, respect and boundaries. If the interview doesn’t come off, it doesn’t come off. Stuff happens. You can’t take it personally, nor hold it against the writer.

Who’s reading reviews? An awful lot of readers, as well as writers interested in the craft. I don’t understand the question posed by Rosefield, nor do I agree writers are treated with the same intrusive attention as other celebrities – whom I assume crave the fame. Artists tend to be more introverted, and I can’t imagine the energy it takes to perform readings and signings, which is why I generally approach them with email questions. They can answer at their leisure, start then come back to finish later, etc. It’s much less intensive than phone or in person interviews, though it’s true there’s less spontaneous back and forth, etc. There are trade-offs, but I think it’s easier for writers to schedule their own time than have to show up on cue for me.

Why interviews? I think it’s self-evident. Generating more interest, luring more readers and just getting their names out there to a new audience. I’m sure there are other things writers would rather do, but every job has its downside; it can’t all be exciting. They can refuse, or have an agent do so for them. Either way, it’s the choice of the author.

Am I right? Do serious readers like reading the thoughts of their favorite writers?

I’ve had to turn down more authors asking for interviews than have turned down me, which is disappointing to me. Lo, that I could only blog full-time! Alas, I cannot. Interviews seem effortless, but there is actual work behind them. Not as much as reviewing. I won’t claim that. But it’s work, all the same.

So, that’s my spiel on interviewing, as it relates to some of the stuff in Hannah Rosefield’s article. Now it’s time to do some more heavy lifting and get those interviews over here, formatted and posted. I can’t put it off any longer. See you later.

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Interview: Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry

You grew up in such a rich storytelling environment, learning more than most about your family’s history – especially contrasting here in the States, where we’re more “mixed breeds,” often without any clear ethnic heritage at all. Do you believe you would have chosen writing as your vocation if you’d grown up without such moving stories as incentive to pass on your ancestors’ tales (which tell so much about the history of Ireland)?

The strange thing is, my family was full of both stories and silence. Pregnant with silence. As a child there were versions of things, in particular my mother’s rather ferocious retelling of her childhood, available. My maternal grandfather also told me stories, since we shared a room in my childhood, about his travels all over the world, and indeed he kept an accounts book in which he always intended to write his autobiography – but how could he, when there was so much to keep secret? So even around these voluble stories there was a silence, or silences – very interesting silences too. So as I child was a short-trousered spy among them, trying to piece things together from clues, lies, admissions, and absences. Not very consciously maybe, but it was all such a tangle and a muddle there was an instinct to try and make sense of it. The other ingredient was, the sense of a prohibition on talking about many things. Why did my other grandfather never go home to Cork? What happened to those great uncles that disappeared? My painter grandfather taught me to paint, and I went to his house once a week religiously, but in all that time he never mentioned his own mother to me – because much to his shame she had been a Protestant. Awful in many ways, but also, wonderful, for a child at least – the mystery of it, and the strange anguish in these grown-up people, whom I adored unconditionally.

So in answer to your question, I could never have been a writer if I had been a true believer in all those stories – it was the silences that decided it.

The literature of the southern U.S. – I’m thinking of William Faulkner in particular – bears a strong resemblance to much Irish literature, due in part to several historical similarities: enduring/surviving civil war, the oppression/prejudice of some groups by those more powerful, the breaking away of part of the country from another (temporarily, in our case) and the resulting violence afterward in the way of racial prejudice (partly religious there): lynchings here, bombings there. etc.. Have you read much literature of the American South and do you have any thoughts on similarities between the two?

I haven’t read enough of the literature of the South (I confess) but I have taken a sort of tumultuous interest in the history of it – and you are right, our own Irish history is written there, mutatis mutandis, which I think primes the Irish reader to feel the full measure of the sorrow that rises from it. The binary madnesses of our species, religion against religion, race against race, gender against gender, are tragically universal, aren’t they? And written on the wind everywhere.

But Faulkner, aside from being a Southerner, is the prime instance of the writer going his own way. That in fact is what Seamus Heaney said to me years ago, when I was about 30. ‘You have to go your own way.’ It’s very simple, very true, and very hard to do.

The intensity of your writing, and the reading experience for your readers, is so great. Does it exhaust or upset you writing such personal material and do you sometimes find yourself needing to separate (i.e., take a break from) your work before resuming writing?

The disreputable fact is I love to work, especially when I get off the bank and finally into the river, and the boat heads away on the current of a book – even if the inevitable waterfall is to be heard far off in the distance. I take long breaks because I am old enough to realize that one of the sins of writing is to force it, despite what some people say about writing every day. You can’t run all day, day after day, and you can’t write like that either, unless you want to write ‘on sticks’ as it were. So it goes for me anyhow. What I am interested in is the fact that at some point a book makes itself possible, and I am so grateful for that that it is somehow immaterial to me if the subject matter is ‘dark’ –  there is no dark in the writing of it, somehow, or at least the light shone by sentences seems benign, and language itself maybe is a form of courage.

 

In the current literary world newspapers are eliminating or reducing space dedicated to books and literary culture, while blogging about the same subjects seems to be filling that gap formerly owned by professional journalists. Some doing a better job of it than others. Do you see that as a negative, i.e., should we be mourning the loss of more structured, professional reviewing, etc.? (Please ignore that I have a blog and don’t worry about offending.)

The greatest change in my writing life, of about 33 years, is the new availability of the thoughts of your readers. The sense of readers out there, beyond your ken, and yet existing in remarkable intimacy to you. No book is read communally, the reader is usually alone, in whatever place he or she reads. And yet there is a community of readers for a book, a sort of constellation of lights on an unknown map, each lit point representing a reader. And thanks to blogs and sites like goodreads, a writer if he so desires can hear the thoughts of this mysterious, deeply human, deeply personal and private demographic. It isn’t that it will make the writer write for his or her readers, but that he or she will write now for the first time among those readers – in their midst as it were, in a way that didn’t quite exist before.

Otherwise there are still the places that review, despite the shrinkages of space. What has partly compensated for that is the availability of all the reviews online. Previously, an individual bought The Times and what the Times said was the whole story for that particular person, and so on. So in a way, there is a sense that there are more reviews. Australia, US, Canada, and all the translation territories… So reviews do still dominate, strangely enough. And it is necessary to have that, it is as old as Greece and older. But maybe in the final analysis reviews are for readers, not writers.  Maybe when the writer reads a review of his own work, in that instance he mutates, becomes a reader. Because the source of books, the well of a book, is not to be found near that ground. Then there is also academic criticism, another creature altogether, most usually written by someone who has a chosen love or regard for the work being written about. And curiously enough, I think as far as I can see, many blogs work at that level, as if there is a hidden academia of interest, empathy, and enthusiasm, called the blogosphere. This is the new dispensation, and I think all in all it confers a blessing on writers.

 

It’s ubiquitous to ask about your own personal reading. How much reading time are you able to fit in and what have you read lately that you’d recommend?

I read like a tramp travels. Instinct, weather, where the wind blows me. I have about fifty books on my worktable at the moment, about bomb disposal, gun-running in Africa, all sorts of arcane things. I sometimes imagine in my mind’s eye, as I order yet another obscure title, the bookseller in some far away place, packaging up the book he or she thought would never be sold. That he or she had placed bets on would never be sold. ‘The Wonders of Modern Engineering’ (1927) for instance, which just arrived today… Otherwise I get quite a few galleys and try to read them religiously, because to write a book is a very hard, unlikely achievement bordering on the miraculous, and sometimes indeed crosses over into the very heartland of the miraculous.

 

Interview: A.J. Jacobs

 

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He’s a little crazy, a little nutty and a whole lot of fun. A.J. Jacobs, editor at large of Esquire magazine and author of several self-improvement books, also happens to be an at large acquaintance of mine. We “met” after I’d posted a review of The Know It All on Amazon, writing about how this book pulled me out of a period of grief after the death of one of my best friends. I guess it touched something within him, as a writer, knowing his work had had such a healing effect on me. It was the nature of his book, the ease of putting it down after reading each short entry and picking it up again whenever I felt like it, that kept me going. And the humor didn’t hurt, either.

We still “chat” via email now and then. He helps me out by giving me the occasional writerly advice and is generally a kind soul and wonderful person to know.

He granted me an interview previously, after the publication of My Year of Living Biblically, and now, once again, upon publication of Drop Dead Healthy. I am a very lucky person, indeed, to know him.

Here’s the interview:

1).  What drew you to write a series of human experiment/self education/self help books? Did you intend this to become your niche, after The Know-It-All?
I wish I could say it was a master plan. I love to test things out, and I love to write. So this kind of journalism seemed a good match. (I just re-read this answer. I lied. I don’t love to write. I love to research, interview people and think about stuff. The act of writing is about as pleasant to me as a catheterization).
2).  What was the reaction from your wife and family when it became obvious you were writing more books a lot of people would consider overly-ambitious? 
My wife keeps asking me to write something that doesn’t involve major lifestyle disruptions. Maybe a history of wicker furniture.
3).  Your books require vast amounts of research. Is it annoying how quickly the reader is able to read it? I imagine it’s like Thanksgiving dinner. It takes forever to cook but only about fifteen minutes to eat…
Good point! I hadn’t thought about it, but now that you point it out, I am quite irritated. Slow down, people. Try a word or two a day.
4).  Do you have help with your research? Considering my “day job” profession, I have to ask, do you make use of libraries or librarians when working on the background information? This is where you say how great libraries are.
First, I want to say how great libraries are. I love libraries, librarians and the library sciences in general. (I’m not kidding. I really do love libraries. I even like library gossip. I once heard that Melvil Dewey, of decimal system fame, was a big womanizer. True?)

 

Second, I definitely borrowed stacks of books from the NYPL when writing ‘Drop Dead Healthy.’ But I didn’t delegate much of the research. I love to explore the informational detours, which you can only do if you’re researching it yourself.
5).   Ever consider writing fiction? If not, why and if yes, where is it?
I have considered writing a children’s book. I’m looking for an animal that has never been featured in a story before. My latest idea is to give the blobfish a moment in the sun.
6).    Which of your books took longest to write? Which made your family question your sanity the most?
The new one, Drop Dead Healthy, took a huge amount of time. It should have been out a year ago. But I had a long journey before I could declare myself healthy. As for sanity-questioning, probably The Year of Living Biblically. Like with the biblical rules about purity. Leviticus says you cannot touch women during certain times for the month. And it even says that you cannot sit in a seat where  menstruating woman has sat, because then the seat is impure. My wife found this offensive, so she sat in every seat in our apartment.
7).   Have you ever had to scrap a book idea because it was too much work or just too difficult?
Not because it was too much work. But I’ve certainly scrapped ideas because they were vetoed by my wife. I wanted to spend a month without face to face communication – live my life totally on line with Facebook and IMs and so on. But my wife said our niece’s bat mitzvah was coming up, and that I was not going to attend by having a monitor at the table with me Skyping from home.
8).  Do you have downtime when you can actually read for pleasure? Anything good you’ve read lately?
I just read “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt. It’s a great study of how we form political opinions, and why we are so convinced the other side is a bunch of idiots, when in fact we are often idiots ourselves.
9). Any idea what project you’ll try tackling next? Will you tell me if I promise not to (verbally) tell anyone else?
My kids are lobbying hard for “A Year of Eating Nothing But Candy.” They said they would join me. That aside, I’m not sure what is next. But I do love getting reader suggestions.
10). Is there anything you wouldn’t do, or have been warned you’d better not do, even if it would produce a really great book?
I don’t like to go undercover. I tell people right up front that I’m writing a book and I’m here to report. Maybe I was influenced by an experiment I once did in which I practiced Radical Honesty for a month. This is a movement that believes you shouldn’t lie. But more important, whatever’s on your brain should come out of your mouth. No filter.
Overall, this was a horrible month. But it also taught me the liberating feeling of telling the truth and the stress that lies can cause.

Interview: Selah Saterstrom

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LG: What sort of childhood did you have? Were you the sort of child who lived a lot in your imagination?

SS: Growing up I had a whole slew of cousins and my childhood was filled with adventures and misadventures with them. Between us we had an extraordinary amount of imagination. We would stage plays and other “experimental” productions which could be quite … interesting! We always practiced having a wonderful sens of humor in my family.

There was this way that our collective energy and applied imagination was able to disrupt the landscape into its more surreal versions. Surrealist writers have been important to me and reading them has taught me a great deal about the generative aspects of transgression, and how the dream – as a form of literature – makes it possible to break out of binary ghettos we may have set up for ourselves. When I think of my continued fascination with these things I think my childhood spent with cousins, how we were experimenting with other ways of knowing and engaging through our imaginations. Those times were great fun, never lacking in drama, and taught me a lot about the power of story.

LG: Were you a big reader as a child? What were your favorite books?

SS: Reading was celebrated by the adults in my life when I was a child. Reading was never a stodgy thing to do. For example, it was sneakiness of the highest order for my sister and I to turn on flashlights after the adults went to bed and read Nancy Drew under the covers when we should have been sleeping.

My grandfather had a large library and taught us about the importance of reading and writing. His library was full of history, philosophy, psychology, religion and the classics, and we mainly read from this library, which meant as a child I read a great deal of Plato, Shakespeare and French writers such as Hugo, all of whom were great favorites. I don’t know that I always understood what I was reading then, but it was when I began to love how language could flow and how it felt in the body.

LG: Have you always wanted to be a writer, or did you have a moment of epiphany when you chose that vocation? Or did it choose you?

SS: I had early experiences that I look back on now as having divinatory significance about being a writer. What those experiences had in common is that they involved the act of seeing and the power of story to make available the logic of mystery – of uncertainty – as a way that made things bearable and known to the heart’s experience.

As a child I once saw a relative’s dead body and I remember thinking, “Well, after seeing that I can see anything.” I had this overwhelming sense that this meant something important and that it was a kind of ethical responsibility to be willing to see what was there to be seen. What I did with that seeing was to write. I wrote my first story when I was around seven, and don’t remember a time after when I didn’t want to write (though sometimes I also wanted to be a ball-gown designer in New York City or a nun). I don’t think anyone in my family is surprised that I’m a writer now. Did I choose it? Did it choose me? I have no idea. When I think back to early childhood experiences of writing I only remember that it always felt right, compulsory, very, very close.

LG: The narrator of The Meat and Spirit Plan is a very complex, incredibly intelligent young woman who’s also very mixed up. What inspired you to write about her?

SS: When I was working with “troubled” teenaged girls, I saw the uniqueness of their lives and their fierce intelligence, but I also saw correspondences in their experiences of the body. Futhermore, I saw correspondences between their stories and many of my friends’ stories. I was also affected by other stories, such as the story of the sexual abuse and death of Hunter College student Ramona Moore.

As part of my research for this book I also interviewed women who had been sexually abused, and I realized that sexual abuse – something we tend to think of as the exception to the rule – really isn’t the exception. I also work for SASA, a sexual assault advocacy, support, and response team, and the statistics that state one out of three women will be in some way sexually violated is alarmingly accurate and thriving.

Through this narrator – who has a variety of sexual experiences, some of which are violations and some which are not – I wanted to examine the cultural conditions around young people and the ways they come into their bodies. I was interested in how sometimes the moment of sexual awareness coincides with moments of sexual disempowerment or disembodiment. Of course there are a lot of reasons why this happens, but what interested me was the break-down in communication we have about bodies in our culture and how this plays out among teenagers and what happens when those teenagers grow up – how we all learn to celebrate our bodies, with their history and complexities, as adults.

LG: Mississippi has been the native state of some of the greatest American authors, including William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. What is it about the South, and Mississippi in particular, that makes for such a wealth of literary genius?

SS: If only I could offer some insights to this question! I do believe that each region retains its own magical synergy and that this synergy is created by many details – from the kind of flora that grows in the region, the weather, the history of the region itself – the history that is retold and celebrated as well as the history that is not told, is not celebrated.

The way these details come together in Mississippi creates quite a synergy. One need only listen to the Blues coming out of the North Mississippi Hill country and the Delta to sense this. And I’d add, gospel music (such as The Mississippi Mass Choir).

Mississippi is a place of contradictions that bears them viscerally and with soul. As southern scholar Susan Ketchin has said, the Deep South is a Christ-haunted landscape – faith and doubt sit beside one another and this juxtaposition creates a hybrid energy which infests language with possibility. It is a story driven place, where everything has a story (and has a secret version of its story). Perhaps for obvious reasons I like Faulkner’s idea, “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”

Mississippi is a place I love very much. It has certainly been a generous landscape in which to ruminate upon the complexities of the human condition as well as the human heart.

Thank you so much to Selah Saterstrom. It was a pleasure.

Interview: Billy Collins

Interview With Poet Laureate Billy Collins

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On February 19 I had the pleasure of interviewing former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins via telephone. Mr. Collins served two terms as Poet Laureate, from 2001 – 2003. He was also selected as New York State Poet for 2004.

Billy Collins has published several collections of poetry (bibliography below, from wikipedia.com), and he’s been included in many anthologies.

LG: Were you an avid reader as a child? What were your favorite books?

BC: I was not only an avid reader but I used to pretend to read before I could read. I was an only child and that lead to a very rich reading life. When my parents would have people over I would pretend to be reading. I would have an encyclopedia on my lap and I’d pretend to be reading it. I knew which way to turn it because of the pictures.

Later, when I was able to read, I read all the Hardy boys, and the Albert Payson Terhune books about Lad and Lassie. They’re basically all the same story, with the names changed. I read Black Beauty and The Yearling. Those I read a number of times and had them read to me.

My parents didn’t have a TV until everyone else had a TV. We had the collected Dickens in the house, and my mother said, half-jokingly, if I read all of Dickens we could get a TV. I didn’t read all of Dickens.

Mother Goose is the original inspiration for all poets. That’s where they get an idea of rhythm and rhyme. My mother had memorized a lot of poetry as a schoolgirl. She went to a rural school in Ontario, Canada. She housed hundreds and hundreds of lines of poetry. If any occasion arose she’d have a few lines of poetry about it.

LG: When did you start writing poetry?

BC: I don’t think anyone escapes childhood, or adolescence, without writing some really horrible, usually lovesick, poetry, poems of a misunderstood adolescent who was convinced no one in the course of history had ever felt this way before.

I didn’t write my first book until I was in my 40s. It took me a long time to figure it out, or find my voice, or combine these different influences so it sounded like me. I was writing all along, kind of on the side. I went to grad school and began teaching literature in college. I’ve been doing that most of my life. I used to be a professor who wrote poetry. Now I’m a poet who happens to be a professor.

LG: How many hours a day do you write? Do you keep a strict schedule?

BC: I have no work habits whatsoever. I don’t write every day, so often it would be zero hours per day. I kind of hold onto a romantic view. People say in order to be a writer you have to write all the time. The poem will come along when it arrives. I try to be on the lookout for creative opportunities, something that might trigger a poem, but I don’t sit down in the morning and try to commit an act of literature before lunch.

LG: That sounds a lot different than writing fiction.

BC: It is very different from fiction writing. As Hemingway said you always knock off for the day in the middle of a scene, but poets have to restart themselves all the time. Poets return much more often to the blank page.

I heard about a survey once, the results of which are poets are more inclined to suicide because of the anxiety of starting afresh. Depression visits poets more frequently. You can write a lyric poem in a couple of hours. You don’t know if the next poem will start the next hour or a month from now. Poetry’s known for its brevity, but that’s also the bad news for writers.

LG: Do you do a lot of re-writing?

BC: Less and less. I try to make it right the first time. The conceptual journey of the poetry is all done in one sitting, from beginning to middle to end. I hardly ever change the movement of the poem as it navigates itself. What I do change are matters of rhythm and sound, finding an adjective. But I never go back and say this is all wrong.

LG: Do you write on the computer or longhand?

BC: I write with a pencil, always longhand. I make a mess and scratch things out. A pencil seems very fluid. I put it on the computer at the very last minute, when I think it’s done. On the computer it looks fixed in place and it’s pretty much done. When you put it on a computer you see what it looks like. The look of prose is irrelevant, but the poem has a shape to it which is the result of line breaks and stanza breaks, so you can see what you couldn’t see with the pencil. Shapeliness is one of the attractive aspects of poetry. When I get it on the screen I do some shaping to make it look right.

LG: Do any other genres, besides poetry, appeal to you?

BC: Not really. I think it’s sort of like in music. It’s enough to be able to play one fairly well. That’s the question musicians never get, do you play any other instruments.

I write some prose, I write essays on poetry. Criticism. I wouldn’t know what I was doing if I wrote a short story.

LG: What writers have influenced you the most?

BC: That’s a tough question. There are too many to name. It’s not even clear the degree of influence. Often people will spout names like Yeats, Coleridge, etc., but I think these are flags of convenience. It’s hard to think of something that hasn’t influenced me, positively or negatively.

I’ve taught literature in college for so many years. Every semester I re-read Emily Dickinson, Wordsworth, Marvel. I read them all semester after semester.

What I think of as an influence is a poet who makes you jealous. It’s a polite way of saying other writers inflame you with jealousy. Driven by a jealous rage you go off and try to write something like that, or try to steal from them in order to exact revenge.

LG: I’ve read that you consider your poetry to be “hospitable,” which some refer to as accessible. How do you distinguish between hospitable and poetry that’s considered difficult or obscure?

BC: I think I discovered that you can write clearly in clear language and still have access to areas of great mystery. To write doesn’t mean to get stuck on a literal level. There are poets who follow etiquette. I write in sentences. I use standard punctuation, beginning with a standard note the reader can identify with. Once that engagement is made the poet can head off in less familiar directions and take the reader on an imaginative journey in which the writer doesn’t know where he’s going.

A poem begins in clarity and ends in mystery, if a poet is able to understand that distinction and knows when to be clear and when to be mysterious. It’s important to know which cards to turn over, and which to leave face down. In the worst poetry all the cards are face down.

LG: Aside from writing, what are your pastimes?

BC: I play the piano. I have a dog I’m obsessed with.

LG: What kind of dog?

BC: She’s a mutt, mostly collie. It goes back to those Albert Payson Terhune books. I live in New York City, on the Hudson River in the Village. That’s a good opportunity for walking.

LG: What projects are you working on currently?

BC: I’m finishing a manuscript but I don’t know if it’s done yet. I think the publisher would like it but I’m not sure it’s ready. I don’t want to rush it into print. I don’t know how many aces I have.

LG: What advice would you give to aspiring poets?

BC: That goes back to that influence question. Just read. Find poets that make you jealous. The only hope you have in what would be called originality is through a process of imitation. It’s a matter of getting rid of the young poet’s delusion that your experiences are so original that you’re going to announce this in original language. What inspires poetry is poetry. It’s not the muse. It’s not nature. It’s not emotion. It’s other poetry that inspires poetry. When you write poetry you’re adding your voice to this long historic voice. You need to listen to these for a long time before you even know what your voice would possibly add. Read widely and quickly. Don’t waste your time on poetry that doesn’t talk to you.

LG: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

BC: Thank you.

Special thanks to Steven Barclay, of Steven Barclay Agency, for putting me in touch with Mr. Collins, and to Billy Collins, for his generosity in granting the interview.

Interview: David J. Walker

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An interview with David J. Walker:

1. Does the writing of series novels present any special challenges, or benefits, you don’t find in stand-alone fiction? What advice would you give an aspiring writer about writing series fiction?

One challenge of a series is that the author is locked into whatever he/she has said about the characters in the past. For example, if the hero’s mother is dead in book one, she’s not around to be of service to the plot in book three. All series writers I know say that there are things they wish they hadn’t done early on because they’d like things a little different now.

A large benefit, to me at least, is that I don’t have to create a whole new set of characters for each book. When I begin a new book I already have the principal characters and know how they deal with life and with whatever problems I put in front of them. Of course, the fun thing is to have them change their approach and try something new (like get divorced, start drinking, find out their mother is not dead after all, or whatever).

Also, publishers like mysteries that come in series. I think it might be easier to break in with a series.

2. If you didn’t live in the Chicago area would you still find it a good setting for your books? What about the city appeals to you, and what qualities does it have that work well for your fiction?

I think Chicago is a great city in which to set crime novels. I can’t go into great detail on why (I’ve written whole articles on the subject), but for one thing the city already has a reputation (for gangsters and political corruption and such) that is known around the world and can be taken advantage of.


3. What writing projects are you working on currently?

I am writing on a stand-alone suspense novel that is set partially in Chicago, but involves Latin America and the CIA and attempts to bring about “regime change” in a country that is hostile to the U.S. It is so much different than the eight private eye novels I have had published that it is a challenge…but also a lot of fun.

4. Do you practice any writing rituals?

I write as early in the day as I can drag myself out of bed. As for rituals, I have recently taken to starting each session by reading some brief article about writing. Usually it’s something motivational for authors to keep me going, but sometimes something about technique. Novelists Incorporated, a national organization for published “pop fiction” authors, has a great newsletter full of inspiring things.

5. What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re reading now, or have read recently, that’s impressed you?

Nothing has impressed me in a long time as much as the Harry Potter books. I am also reading a lot of thrillers (which the Harry Potter books are, come to think of it). Recent favorites are: Derailed, by James Siegel, and Citizen Vince, by Jess Walter. I like stories about (more or less) ordinary people who are suddenly caught up in dangerous situations and find the often surprising capacity to survive and beat the odds.

6. Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionately about?

I feel passionately that we create our own lives, that taking responsibility for our lives is a great step toward discovering happiness, and that the culture we live in tends to foster a sense of victimhood and dependence. I am a big believer in affirmations and visualizations and am not at all deterred by the fact that these techniques are often disparaged as “New Age” B.S. As far as politically and socially, I am a liberal through and through. I could go on and on, but who cares…?

7. Do you have a favorite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you feel sums up your philosophy on life?

I have had all sorts of “sayings” that I have used at various different times in my life. Sometimes I stick them on my computer. A recent favorite is: “How I do anything is how I do everything.”

8. If you were marooned on an island, stuck in an elevator, or otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you have with you?

What book would I want on a deserted island? Maybe The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff. Or ask me next week.

9. What memories do you have, from your childhood, about your experiences in public libraries? Did they play a role at all in your love of books and reading?

My first public library was in the small country town where I grew up. It consisted of a few rooms on the first floor of what had been a farm house, and was full of children’s adventure books and biographies.. My brother and I would go there about once a week, take out as many books as they would let each person take, and then trade them with each other as we read them. I remember exactly (I think) what it looked like, felt like, smelled like (although the librarian is a blank to me).

The second one was the old main branch of the Chicago Public Library (now the “Cultural Center”). I remember it as dark and gloomy (way different than it is now) and full of strange books. At the time I was in my first couple of years of high school on Chicago’s near north side. I never had a card and never took one book out, just wandered around the place about once a month, wondering who wrote all this stuff and thinking they must be important people. (Now I’m one of them, and I know better.)

David J. Walker’s website: http://www.davidjwalker.com/

Interview: Wendy K. Harris

wendykharris

 

” I don’t spend all my time wandering the beaches and gazing out to sea – although that was my vision when I moved to the Isle of Wight in 2003. Sometimes I wonder how I ended up here. It wasn’t part of the grand plan which was, in fact, to have no plan at all. ”

How has the experience of publishing The Sorrow Of Sisters surprised you?

I think I have been most surprised by the strength of my own emotions. Getting published was almost unintentional. I was prompted by fellow writers and my daughter, and I thought I might as well give it a go. I’d read so many accounts of writers papering walls with their rejection slips that I had no real expectations. Tentatively, I sent a few chapters to a literary advisory service and received positive feedback and the names of three agents to try. The second one signed me up and that’s when the possibility of being published arose and the thrill of it hit me like a sledgehammer. I don’t think I’ve been quite the same since!

What about the experience has stood out from your other writing endeavours?

The exhilaration of holding the first bound copy in my hands – even though it was the German edition and I couldn’t read it! The other aspect is the vulnerability. For me, writing a novel is a bit like gestating a baby – it’s a private and intimate experience and then suddenly it’s out there for the world to pick up, consider and form an opinion. Fortunately the feedback has been wonderful. But what if everybody hated it? I think I would have to go into exile.

What projects are you working on currently?

I am working on a ‘treatment’ for The Sorrow Of Sisters. This is like a synopsis but written as the first stage of a film script. I have just received an offer from my German publisher for the second ‘Undercliff Novel’ the title of which is Blue Slipper Bay, and I am also twenty thousand words into the third – Winds That Blow Lonely.

Do you practice any writing rituals?

I need to have a clear, quiet mind before I start writing. I achieve this by dealing with any pressing external chores first so they don’t nag at me. Then I go into my writing room with a sense of the sacred. I light incense or a candle, maybe play a chant, and sit quietly for a while. I know that my best creativity lies beneath the turmoil of my ego. I can’t always reach it but I give it a chance. Writing a journal also helps clear the junk from the path. When I am ready I just start – maybe with pencil and pad or sometimes straight onto laptop. And I can go at it for hours!

What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re reading now, or have read recently, that’s impressed you?

Precious Bane

by Mary Webb – the chosen book for my local reading group. It was first published in 1924 and is set in rural Shropshire. I usually go for contemporary fiction but this old-fashioned tale stunned me with its beauty and poignancy. It is the story of a young woman with a hare-lip, the superstition that surrounded her at the time, and her extraordinary affinity with the natural world which nurtured her generous soul.

Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionately about?

People aside – The Undercliff of the Isle of Wight, where I live. It abounds with history and wildlife and stories – told, untold and imagined. It is a rugged but fragile area where humans try to control land and sea, which of course have their own agenda. And then there’s my eternal quest for the invisible dimension of life which upholds and makes sense of the visible.

Do you have a favourite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you feel sums up your philosophy on life??

Be Still And Know – not in an intellectual or religious way but in a ‘time to stand and stare’ way. Thoughts have a tendency to preoccupy my mind with the future and the past. Taking a deep breath and feeling deeply into this moment brings me back to an awareness of the actual experience of living.

If you were marooned on an island, stuck in an elevator, or otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you want to have with you?

This is a very difficult question for an avid, eclectic reader who seldom reads the same book twice! It would have to be big and complex to maybe last a long time. Classically, I’d choose Dickens – Bleak House. Spiritually –

A Course In Miracles or Eckhart Tolle – The Power Of Now. Contemporary fiction would be Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible. But if I must choose only one – and given that I feel all life is a quest for fulfilment in some shape or form – I would go for Tolkein – The Lord of The Rings – especially since seeing the wonderful films and the New Zealand landscape which I love.

What memories do you have from your childhood, about your experiences in public libraries? Did they play a role at all in your love of books and reading?

Wonderful! My local library was an old monastery in the middle of what became a public park. I can still hear the creak of the gnarled oak doors and smell the musty books. The silence was tangible and the gloom intense. And all those shelves were stacked with promises of magical experiences. I had little cardboard tickets and, oh, the joy when I was old enough to graduate from the junior to adult sections and enter through the grown-up door! Definitely the start of my addiction.

Interview: Robert Hill

 

robert hill

 

LG: How has the experience of publishing When All is Said and Done surprised you? What about the experience has stood out from your other writing endeavors?

RH: The biggest surprise to me was that I wrote something others found worthy of publishing! I honestly didn’t know if I could do it. For the past 25 years I’ve been writing mostly advertising copy for movies and, for the past three or so years, grants for non-profit organizations. I had not sat down to any creative writing, any “me” writing, for many years. Not since college, really. Yet, all through the years, I never missed an opportunity to grumble to myself “I should be writing a novel.” When I was 43, some friends staged a creative intervention. They urged me to join a local weekend writing workshop led by Tom Spanbauer, (The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon). It was a put up or shut up challenge. It worked.

For advertising, you practice the art of brevity. More often than not, you’re reduced to writing the three-word headline, the 25-word copy block. Writing the novel, I didn’t have those constraints. I could do anything I wanted. Anything. It was a totally liberating experience. As a result, in what may seem like a rebellion against all things terse, the opening sentence to When All is Said and Done is close to four-pages long. You might say it was my declaration of independence, or, at least, my declaration of independent clauses.

LG: What writing projects are you working on currently?

RH: I’m at work on a new novel. Many shifting points of view. Many characters, all of whom are extremely elderly. I’m having fun with the language.

LG: Do you practice any writing rituals?

RH: My most practiced writing ritual, unfortunately, is procrastination. I’ll circle the keyboard for hours, sometimes days, before my fingers come in for a landing. I don’t write every day at a set time for a set length of time. I work in bursts, and once in them, I’m committed for the long haul. I’ll keep working until I’ve reached the other side of whatever “arc” I’m creating. That could be two hours of twelve. I don’t recommend this system for everyone. But it works for me.

LG: What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re reading now, or have read recently, that’s impressed you?

RH: Books I’ve recently read and loved: Percival Everett’s God’s Country; The Last Flight of Jose Luis Balboa, a short story collection by Gonzalo Barr, Tom Spanbauer’s new novel, Now is the Hour; and for overall lasting stunning-ness, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

LG: Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionate about?

RH: Of equal weight: foster care, global warming, the disappearing middle class, the grotesque rampage of corporate profits that hides behind the American Flag, historic preservation.

LG: Do you have a favorite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you feel sums up your philosophy on life?

RH: For life in general: the Golden Rule. For writing: never write “down.” Treat readers with respect.

LG: If you were marooned on an island, stuck in an elevator, or otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you have with you?

RH: I’m fairly practical. On a deserted island, I’d hope to have any survival guide that lists the basic instructions for fire, shelter and food. In a stalled elevator, I’d want something titled The Art of Staying Calm or the equivalent. For any other situation where I’d be cut off from society, I suppose the Bible would be good. I’m not particularly religious, but it does have some pretty good stories in it. The Oxford Dictionary would be a welcome companion, too.

Thank you, Robert Hill, for a lovely interview.

Interview: Lewis Buzbee

lewisbuzbee

 

LG: How has the experience of publishing The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop surprised you? What about the experience has stood out from your other writing endeavors?

LB: It has been a lovely surprise all the way around, to find so many readers–booksellers, librarians, and civilians–so passionate about the bookstore. I’ve always knowns this, from my first bookselling days on, but to see it fleshed out like this, well, it’s great. Not for me necessarily (though it has been that, too), but for the bookstore. I’m not nearly as pessimistic about the future of the bookstore as others, and the reaction has been heartening.

One of the great delights of all of this is meeting these folks in person, at trade shows and in bookstores. I’ve been out of the business for 12 years–I’m a teacher these days, at the University of San Francisco’s MFA program–and so I’m seeing old bookstore friends, sales rep friends, old customers. And meeting new friends, too, booksellers and librarians and those merely besotted with booklust. Terrific. It feels oddly like home.

LG: What writing projects are you working on currently?

LB: Right now I’m working on a series of kids’ chapter books, JoJo Pearlwhite’s Mix and Match Adventures, for readers 6-9. It’s always been my hope to write kids’ books, and the moment seems right. We’re just sending those round to publishers now. Part of my desire to do this comes from having an 8 year-old daughter, Maddy, and the immersion in kids’ books that comes with her. But as a bookseller for so long, kids’ books have always been a part of my adult life, a compulsion. And it’s been a gas writing these.

LG: Do you practice any writing rituals?

LB: Well, with an 8 year-old, rituals get a little suspended. My ritual is to write when I possibly can. Usually when Maddy’s at school, and I’ve the time. It’s catch as catch can. The ritual that’s replaced the regular time-slot for writing is that since Maddy’s been born, I write in long hand again–at least for the first drafts–which I used to do all the time, of course, before computers. It was a wonderful return, writing with a pen again. The slowness and quiet of it, the commitment one makes to a sentence, the scratch and smooth of the paper.

LG:  What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re reading now, or have read recently, that’s impressed you?

LB: As you know, people like us are always reading and always reading too much. So much. And isn’t that a lovely feeling, that one never runs out of great, and I mean truly great books to read. I re-read a lot these days, books from an earlier time in my life I find it compelling to revisit. I’ve just re-read James Agee’s A Death in the Family, after a twenty year hiatus. What a beautiful, wondrous book that it. The writing is exceptional, and there’s something about the quiet of the times he writes of, 1915. Entrancing.

But the exciting new find is a book I’m about halfway through right now, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, a young Australian writer. This is billed as a young adult novel, but like the best young adult novels, it’s as sophisticated and thrilling as any “adult” novel. The narrator here is Death, who tells the story of a young girl in WWII Germany. It’s sweet and harrowing, absolutely unflinching, and the writing is exceptional, completely unique. A true discovery for me.

One of the great developments in recent years in publishing is the breakdown of the barrier between children’s literature and adult. Harry Potter, of course, helped that along. But Philip Pullman’s novels, too, and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, and Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, and many others.

LG: Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionately about?

LB: My daugher, of course, family life. That’s where I live now, and most of my recent fiction’s been about that. I’ve also just published a new book of stories, After the Gold Rush, and they’re all centered on this. But music, too. I play bass–badly–with some musician friends now and then, and there’s nothing better than playing music with friends.

Family, friends, that pretty much takes up the space in a day. And what a way to take up one’s time. 
LG: Do you have a favorite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you feel sums up your philosophy on life?

LB: Ach. Such a hard question. I’m more of an Aristotle than a Plato. I don’t think I’m smart enough, or sure enough, to have a philosophy. In fact, it seems that so many of the problems we have in the world today come from philosophies, this one or that one, and the people who carry those philosophies and try to impose them on everyone else.

But a question that made me think. So, not a philosophy, but a stance rather, an attitude. Italo Calvino said the he was a pessimist of the mind and an optimist of the soul. I try to keep that in mind. A balance of engagment and observation. Or as the Canadian musician Jane Sibbery sings, “half eagle, half angel.”

Oh, and one should always be as polite as possible. That helps.

LG: If you were marooned on a island, stuck on an elevator, or otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you want to have with you?

LB: Oh, I want a clever answer here. But honestly, the one book that comes to mind is The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 1. From Beowulf through Shakespeare. And preferably the one I had–and still own–in my sophomore year in college. It’s all beat up, taped together in places. But that would last me.

LG: What memories do you have, from your childhood, about your experiences in public libraries? Did they play a role at all in your love of books and reading?

LB: I was visiting my mother in San Jose recently, and happened to drive by the public library I’d used as a child, the local branch. It was gone, razed. I couldn’t believe it, shocked. Then I saw that construction was going on and that they were building a new branch, a much bigger one. I was saddened to see the old one go, but thrilled to think there’d be a new one.

Perhaps my most vivid memory of a childhood library is of the very tiny one at my junior high school in San Jose, where one late, dusty afternoon, the librarian introduced me to a wonderful little book called the Teddy Bear Habit, by James Lincoln Collier. It’s one of those important memories that just attacks you now and then; I’ll be walking along, and boom, something in the shade of light or the particular quality of a hushed moment will strike me, and I’m back there. We can never underestimate the importance of libraries in the literacy of our culture. I mean, just imagine this, after centuries of books being owned and read by only the most wealthy, here come public libraries. Every book is yours, and for free. That’s progress.

 

From The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop:

“It’s not as if I don’t have anything to read; there’s a tower of perfectly good unread books next to my bed, not to mention the shelves of books in the living room I’ve been meaning to reread. I find myself, maddeningly, hungry for the next one, as yet unknown. I no longer try to analyze this hunger; I capitulated long ago to the book lust that’s afflicted me most of my life. I know enough about the course of the disease to know I’ll discover something soon.”

 

Interview and Review: Linda Gillard, A Lifetime Burning

Linda Gillard’s A Lifetime Burning: Author interview & book review

” Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.”

– T.S. Eliot, from “East Coker” (from Four Quartets)

linda gillard

An interview with Linda Gillard, author of A Lifetime Burning and Emotional Geology, published by Transita.

1). How has the experience of publishing ALB surprised you? What about the experience has stood out from your other writing endeavors?

I had no idea I’d written a good book. I hoped I had, but I wasn’t sure. Reader reaction and reviews have astonished me, exceeding my wildest dreams. I’ve also been surprised by the warm response from male readers. I don’t think I write for a female readership (I’m certainly far more interested in writing about male characters than female for some reason) but my publisher Transita produces contemporary fiction aimed at mature women and that’s how my books have been marketed. I also had no idea how upset some people would be by ALB. An Oxford book group almost came to blows over it and one woman stormed out leaving the group in disarray. I didn’t realise mere fiction could provoke such strong reactions.

One way ALB has been different from the experience of EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, my first novel, is that although both books are issue-driven, I’ve been unable to promote ALB because of its byzantine plot! EG was a book about the relationship between mental illness and creativity and it was upfront about that. On the surface ALB is a “family drama” but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface but I don’t talk or write about it because it would spoil some of the plot’s jaw-dropping (I hope) revelations. If pushed, I say ALB is a book about compassion and tortuous moral dilemmas, how much damage you can do by trying to do The Right Thing. Whilst this is a fair summary, it’s not going to make copies leap off the shelves! So whereas I could actively target-market EG to interested parties I am very much dependent on word-of-mouth, in particular book group support, to get ALB better known in an overcrowded marketplace.

I think I’ve learned a lot about the marketing of books from the experience of publishing ALB but I don’t think it will affect what or how I write in future. I just write for myself and for the people who enjoy my books. I don’t do it to get rich or famous. (Which is probably just as well.)

2) What writing projects are you working on currently?

I’m now working on my 3rd novel. It’s set on Skye and in Edinburgh and once again the female protagonist is middle-aged. I’m at that stage (25k words) where I wonder if it’s going to become a real book or be an abandoned, half-formed manuscript that never really takes off. It could go either way. I’m trying to write something shorter and lighter than ALB, which was a demanding, at times gruelling book to write. It was also very complex (58 years of an extended family’s life were covered in a non-linear narrative) so this time I’m trying to be simpler but the truth is, I like complex, I like ambitious, so I doubt this one will stay short and sweet.

3) Do you practice any writing rituals?

Not really. I don’t have a problem with writer’s block or the terror of the blank screen. I don’t have a daily routine, I just write when I want to write. If I’m well into a book the problem is pacing myself so that I don’t become mentally and physically exhausted. In the final stages of writing a draft I’m quite happy to skip meals. I’ll happily work from 8.00am till midnight with a few breaks if it’s going well. I wouldn’t recommend this as a work method – you get too tired to appraise your work – but I do find it necessary to disappear, almost completely, into the world of the book. I do get obsessive and my characters seem to me at least as real as my family – possibly more so! I noticed that when I was writing about the pianist Rory in ALB who is left-handed, I ended up doing things left-handedly myself, so powerful was my identification with him.

I think my only foible is that I have to use a certain type of disposable propelling pencil. (I write longhand on lined paper for my first draft.) I buy them in packets of 6. I’ve often wondered if my writing career would grind to a halt if they stopped making these pencils.

4) What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re
reading now, or have read recently, that’s impressed you?

I’m always re-reading Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles – that’s just an endless cycle and I think I’d better be buried with one of my 3 complete sets. (Different editions.)

I usually have a novel on the go by a writing friend or acquaintance. At the moment I’m reading Adele Geras’ young adult read, ITHAKA as she sent me a copy. I’ve also read 3 novels this year by prolific fellow Transita author, Adrienne Dines, a versatile Irish writer who I think is going places. I read her SOFT VOICES WHISPERING in manuscript and found it compelling and beautifully written.

I read non-fiction for research purposes. Recent reads have been popular science: THE REVENGE OF GAIA by James Lovelock, THE SENSE OF BEING STARED AT by Rupert Sheldrake and UNWEAVING THE RAINBOW by Richard Dawkins. But the book that has impressed me most recently (apart from Dunnett) is Stephen Kuusisto’s PLANET OF THE BLIND, about the experience of being blind. The writing is quite wonderful.

5) Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionately
about?

1. Global warming (which I refuse to call “climate change”.) The globe is warming. Period.
2. Education, particularly arts education (provision for which is lamentable in the UK.)
3. Music of all kinds. I was on a piano kick writing ALB but now I’m back on opera.
4. The Scottish Highlands. I live on the Isle of Skye. Every so often I have to go south to see my family or for work purposes. By the time I’ve got as far as Edinburgh, I’m already pining for the North again and counting the hours till I get home.
5. Mental health issues. A year after EG was published I’m still trying to raise awareness of the stigma attached to mental illness and promote understanding of the issues.

6) Do you have a favorite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you
feel sums up your philosophy on life?

I’m tempted to quote chunks of HAMLET which has always been something of a vade mecum, but instead I think I’ll give you a quotation from Louise DeSalvo’s WRITING AS A WAY OF HEALING which got me writing again after a break of many years during which I’d been a teacher. “If you want to write and don’t, because you don’t feel worthy enough or able enough, not writing will eventually begin to erase who you are.”

7) If you were marooned on a island, stuck on an elevator, or
otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you want to have
with you?

Without a moment’s hesitation I can say The Lymond Chronicles by the Scottish historical novelist, Dorothy Dunnett but that’s actually 6 books, which form a series. As they don’t exist in one volume I’ll settle for the final book, CHECKMATE, which is the best and the longest.

8) What memories do you have, from your childhood, about your
experiences in public libraries? Did they play a role at all in your
love of books and reading?

Although my local library (in Dartford, Kent, England) seemed to me a sombre, rather forbidding place, silent and not at all child-friendly compared to its modern equivalent, I remember feeling transported to a magical world. There was a lot of dark, polished wood and 2 turnstiles. You went in by one door and out by another and I always wondered why this was. I remember too that people’s shoes squeaked on the floor – that’s how quiet it was.

I suppose excitement is the feeling I associate with that library and that excitement was to do with choice. I had never seen so many books before. I didn’t know that many books existed! I lived in a town with a very small bookshop, which we never visited. (We were not well off and I had few books when I was young. My mother used to buy us comics and my father bound them into books and covered them with plain brown parcel paper.)

I remember feeling overwhelmed by the choice of books in the children’s section of the library. (This was the 1950s. What on earth would I have felt if there had been the variety and quantity of children’s books now available?) I remember too the pleasure I got from the physical experience of books: their smell; the variety of colours on the shelves; the feel of big, heavy books in my hands; the sound of crisp pages turning.

I had an unfortunate friend who wasn’t allowed to visit the library because her mother said you could catch diseases from dirty library books. I was shocked by this piece of information. I remember considering it, then deciding I didn’t care. I was a reckless book addict from an early age!

Thanks very much to Linda for so kindly taking the time to answer my questions. Following is my review of her recent book A Lifetime Burning:

lifetimeburning

A Lifetime Burning by Linda Gillard

I truly enjoyed Gillard’s first book Emotional Geology, and thought it so beautifully lyrical in style I read it very slowly, to savor every word. If it had a flaw I’d say it was the graphic, raw nature of both the sex and the language of the main character. It’s not that I’m a prude that way. Not at all, but I’m just not one for overly graphic language or sex scenes in general. A personal call, and there you have it. But the rest of that book was so lovely, and the story so wonderful, the bit about the graphic nature didn’t mar my enjoyment. Her latest, though, A Lifetime Burning, is brilliant in every way, start to finish.

What’s somewhat surprising about that is the fact the premise of this book hinges on what could only be termed rampant incest within the family, which is the focus of the plot. There are multiple incestuous layers, which you’d think I’d find more disturbing considering my minor criticism of Gillard’s first book, but the simple fact is this book is so wonderfully written as to present the reader with a completely non-judgmental exploration of what is love, and what should the limits be when pursuing something you believe to be “the real thing.” I found myself forgetting the taboo nature of the love, so wrapped up I was in the beauty of the raw need and complete, encompassing love between the characters. The fact it was incest was, of course, disturbing, but Gillard manages to work her way beyond that, finding just the right perspective that made the reader feel less uncomfortable, though just aware enough to see there was a horrible element to it. In short, the book is masterful and shows a huge leap of sophistication from Emotional Geology, which was at the same time one of the most outstanding first novels I believe I’ve ever read.

A Lifetime Burning is just unearthly beautiful in terms of prose style and lyrical quality. The language is gorgeous and lush, and if the author falters anywhere it’s at that hideously difficult three-quarters mark, building up to the climax, when so very many writers seem to have a difficult time filling the space. But even there, when the plot slows down a bit, my interest never actually flagged. I noted the bit slower pace of things, the slight slowing of the prose, but just as soon as I had the chance to notice it was happening things took off at a brilliant clip again, never to slow down again so much as a hair.

I will be recommending this book to everyone I know who enjoys reading contemporary literary fiction. I found it tremendously moving, and even the day after finishing it I continue to find it positively haunting. I will temper my recommendation to others by adding a caveat about the theme, as the issues raised could be very painful to some, but there will be no strong warning. It’s simply not needed, given the deft way Gillard handles the subject. The sheer beauty of this book is its biggest recommendation, and this book deserves a wide readership. I’ll be waiting very anxiously for Gillard’s next offering.