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Tom McCarthy favourite to win Booker Prize

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Tom McCarthy, the writer of this year's Booker favourite, C.

Tom McCarthy, the writer of this year's Booker favourite, C.

It has transpired that C, by Tom McCarthy, is the forerunner to win the Man Booker Prize when the accolade is awarded on Tuesday 12 October.

Bookies have reported heavy betting on the British writer’s novel in final hours before the ceremony.

C, one of six books nominated for the annual prize, which comes with a cheque for £50 000, follows the life of Serge Carrefax through the upheavals of early 20th century Europe.

Also shortlisted are Parrot and Olivier in America by Australia’s Peter Carey (bidding to become the first author to win the prize three times) and Room by Irish-born Emma Donoghue.

Carey is one of just two authors who have won the Booker twice. His last was in 2001 for True History of the Kelly Gang and prior to that in 1988 with Oscar and Lucinda. South African J.M. Coetzee has also claimed the prize twice.

Damon Galgut (In a Strange Room), Howard Jacobson (The Finkler Question) and Andrea Levy (The Long Song) complete nominees for 2010’s Booker.

In 1981, Salman Rushdie‘s Midnight’s Children earned him the title of Booker winner. In a recent interview Rushdie underlined the significance of being associated with literature’s biggest prize.

Talking to Reuters last week, Rushdie said: “It made a big difference, no question. In England the paperback of Midnight’s Children has sold well over a million copies, and it wouldn’t have done that (without the Booker). It’s very beneficial.”

Midnight’s Children also won the Best of the Booker title in 2008 which was chosen by a popular vote.

Hilary Mantel won the prize in 2009 for her historical novel Wolf Hall, which portrayed Henry VIII’s reign through Thomas Cromwell’s eyes.

The competition aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or Ireland. Past winners include V.S. Naipaul and William Golding.

Like music’s Mercury Prize, the Booker can launch the winning author to literary fame and bolster books sales by hundreds of thousands of copies internationally.

Watch Tom McCarthy discuss C below:

Discussion:
Have you read any of the Man Booker shortlisted offerings? Which is your favourite? Do you think Tom McCarthy would be a worthy winner of 2010’s prize?

Words: Dean Samways

Website says money difficulties behind quick sale of Bret Easton Ellis movie rights

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Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Entertainment press website Purple Revolver this week claimed that American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis is ‘cash-strapped’.

Reporting on the sale of the movie rights to his new novel Imperial Bedrooms, the website alleges that the reason behind the quick sale is because Ellis has found himself in financial difficulty.

We at The Scribbler were especially surprised by the news of the sale when Ellis himself expressed such disappointed at the last film adaptation of one of his novel, The Informers.

However, if you believe Purple Revolver, Ellis has hinted that the quick sale of the rights was money motivated and is not a challenge he is setting himself to transfer the text to film, as The Informers was (for which he wrote the screenplay and co-produced).

Imperial Bedrooms is considered a sequel to his first novel and film Less Than Zero which starred Robert Downey Jr.

According to Purple Revolver Ellis was speaking at a GQ party when he said: “In an ideal world, I would love to have the same cast as before as it is the same characters.

“But I don’t think Robert will do this one – he is in a different place now.

“Actually scratch that, in an ideal world the film would not get made, but I would still get the money.”

We are waiting for comment from Ellis and his publishers to reassure us that he cares about how his works are translated into celluloid.

Watch the trailer for Less Than Zero below:

Discussion:
What’s the best and worst Bret Easton Ellis film? Why do you think his novels are so resistant to the successful treatment?

Words: Dean Samways

Afghan war book deal for Rolling Stone writer

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Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings

Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings

The journalist who broke the story of General Stanley McChrystal‘s ill judged words on the US’ involvement in Afghanistan has a book deal.

Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings is now working on a book about the conflict with publishers Little, Brown and Company, it was announced on Tuesday.

According to the publisher, the book will provide an “unfiltered look” at the war and those men and women fighting it.

As of yet a release date has not been set and the book is currently untitled.

Hastings’ Rolling Stone article featured the much publicised remarks made by McChrystal and his aides about President Barack Obama and his administration. McChrystal was replaced as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan by General David Petraeus following his highly criticised comments.

Read the original article, The Runaway General, here >>

Watch an interview with Michael Hastings on Democracy Now! below:

Discussion:
What do you make of the article? Is Hastings the contemporary journalist of modern times? Will you be reading his book?

Words: Dean Samways

Bret Easton Ellis talks American Psycho

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Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis

We at The Scribbler are very excited to learn that one of inspirations behind this project is going to be making an appearance in London this summer.

Celebrated contemporary writer Bret Easton Ellis is going to be talking about his acclaimed 1991 novel American Psycho as part of the Guardian Review book club.

The discussion with John Mullan is taking place on 14 July at King’s Place, London.

American Psycho is one of the best-loved modern classics of recent times. In 2000 it was made into a major motion picture starring Batman actor Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman.

A 27 year-old Wall Street employee, Bateman is the epitome of 90s decadence. Living in an upscale, chic Manhattan apartment, dining at the most exclusive restaurants and an expert in fashion and expensive consumer products. He is handsome, sophisticated, charming and intelligent. He is also a psychopath.

American Psycho is a brilliant, jet-black comedy wherein Bret Easton Ellis satirises the excesses of yuppy materialism and examines the dark side of the American Dream.

Tickets are £9.50 online and £11.50 from the box office. The event starts at 7.00pm. For more information visit the King’s Place website or call 020 7520 1490 to reserve your seat.

Watch the intro to American Psycho, the motion picture:

Discussion:
Who’s going to be going to the talk? Do you even rate Bret Easton Ellis? If so, why? If not, why not?

Words: Dean Samways

Welsh’s Porno banned in Malta

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Irvine Welsh

Trainspotting and Porno author Irvine Welsh

Scribbler favourite Irvine Welsh has fallen foul of overbearing censorship regulations in Malta, it’s been revealed.

The Scottish author’s second book and sequel to his groundbreaking debut, Trainspotting, Porno, has been banned in Malta.

The University of Malta has taken the decision to remove the novel from its library shelves as the Mediterranean island’s censorship laws state that “obscene or pornographic” should not be available to the public. These statutes also declare that the country’s classification board must give their approval to any and all literature before it is made available to the citizens.

Porno follows the antics of Trainspotting characters Renton, Spud, Sickboy and Begbie ten years after their first drug-fuelled outing only this time the backdrop has shifted from heroin use to the sleaze of the pornography industry. However, this has proved far too racy for the Maltese authorities.

Ingram Bondin of the island’s Front Against Censorship defended the novel last week during a debate in which she branded the situation “a classic case of censorship”.

On the back of this discussion the Front has put forward several proposals to update the country’s censorship laws. For example, they would like to abolish the prison sentence that faces an individual who vilifies the Roman Catholic Church. They would also like the practice of checking material for obscene and pornographic contents by a centrally appointed Classification Board to be stopped.

The 21-year-old editor of the student newspaper Realtà was recently threatened with jail time for publishing a short story deemed inappropriate by the authorities. Mark Camilleri, leader of the Front Against Censorship, said: “Censorship has increased and is being used to suppress arts. But the government is not budging.”

No stranger to controversy Welsh’s themes and scenes of rape, dog killing and drug use have attracted criticism and bans in the past. His play, You’ll Have Had Your Hole, allegedly faced a Belgian ban and the great censors, the Chinese, have refused to allow several of his titles to be sold in the country.

Watch an interview with Irvine Welsh post-Trainspotting:

Discussion:
Is Malta right to censor Irvine Welsh’s work? Is there any place for censorship in this modern age? What are your feelings on the subject

Words: Dean Samways

13th Annual Graham Greene Festival line-up announced

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Graham Greene

Henry Graham Greene: author, playwright and literary critic (1904-1991)

Details of this year’s International Graham Greene Festival have been released.

Held in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, the 13th annual celebration of the English author’s life will welcome writers of all disciplines to discuss the local literary luminary’s work.

Brick Lane author Monica Ali, journalist and psychoanalyst Michael Brearley OBE, Blood River author Tim Butcher, foreign correspondent Humphrey Hawksley, publisher and editor Jeremy Lewis and historian Dr. Joe Spence are among the many intellectuals billed to speak at the event.

Taking place between 30 September and 3 October the festival will hold a screening of The Ministry of Fear (based on the 1943 novel) at The Rex Cinema, a seminar on Greene’s unpublished material lead by Prof. Francois Gallix as well as Ali talking about Greene’s influence on her work. Good news for aspiring writers: there will also be a one day creative writing workshop.

Tickets for all the events are available now with under-21s able to attend the festival free of charge. For more information visit The 13th International Graham Greene Festival website.

Listen to a reading from Greene’s book Our Man in Havana below:

Words: Dean Samways

Discussion:
Graham Greene is one the UK’s best loved novelists but what is your favourite Greene book and why? Will you be going to the 13th International Graham Greene Festival? Have you been? Tell us your past experiences.

The Greenhorn Novelist Blog – Post Three – Making People

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Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden from Fight Club, arguably one of the greatest literary characters of recent times

Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden from Fight Club, arguably one of the greatest literary characters of recent times

Something ain’t right with my novel.

The big bones are in place: the main characters, the plot lines, even the climax and denouement. Seen from a distance, it certainly looks like a novel. But up close, you can see that it’s just a simulacrum of one; it’s canvas doped over a frame, like a dummy aircraft to fool the high-flying enemy. A book prematurely abridged.

A good start, I hope: now the simple process of filling in…

Ah:  here’s the rub. It’s this close-up work, the real flesh of the story that refuses generaisations and synecdoche that I’m having trouble with. There are scraps of the real stuff, passages and pages I adore, but I am having trouble joining them into a consistent and cogent narrative.  It’s not quite firing, quickening, whatever metaphor takes your fancy to describe that mojo quality that is life.

It’s tricky. This writing, in fact, is positively hard. Those that have actually achieved this act of sustained imagination (or perhaps more accurately, these millions of small acts of imagination) ascend higher in my estimation every day.

The main problem lies with the characters.  It’s not about them yet: it’s still about events, and the characters just happen to be the vessels through which interesting happenings happen. The tension between plot and character is of course fundamental to all stories. But I want both to be vibrating, pulsating, symbiotes feeding and thriving off the other.

And the core reason for this problem? I simply don’t know my characters well enough. Even the main characters have not got the depth of history, of complexity, that makes me believe they’re real. I am often at a loss as to what a character will do in a situation, how they will speak, react, move about. I can’t hear them. Their voices are muted.

Or, if the problem is not a lack of biography, it is they have too many, all equally tempting and interesting, all antipathetic to one another.  Choosing a particular path for a character involves destruction as well as creation, the slicing away of a host of possible past and futures. Of all the shiny scraps of the world that I have collected- the interesting stories and happenings squirreled away in notebooks- only a small proportion will ever be realised in a character. Try to get too many in, and a character becomes a shapeless hold-all.

So sit your characters down and interrogate them.  Ask them fifty questions. Start off with the major biographical details: name, sex, age etc. But then range on, to favourite foods, pastimes, memories, to their hopes and fears. Concoct strange questions and situations, and see how they react. Examine their webs of relatives, friends and enemies. How do they sit within these networks? Are they popular or disliked? Powerful or downtrodden?

Physical appearance is essential. What do they look like exactly? Sketch them. Find photos that could be them.  How do they walk, and sit and laugh? What do they sound like when they talk to you? Hopefully when they answer your questions, they’ll begin speaking in their own voice, complete with their quirks of accent and idiom.

Running parallel with getting to better know our peeps, we have to make sure they are worth knowing.

A bad story, in a film, play or book, invariably lacks strong characters.  Forget the setting, the special FX or bodycount. It’s how alive the characters are, how much the audience can empathise with them (not always, please note, sympathise). We’ve got three million years of DNA programming forcing us to want to pay attention to what people are about. Even if cinema audiences bumble on about wanting to see explosions and full frontal nudity, what they would really like is that but with great characters.

So what makes a great character? A trawl through my own fiction reading, and various handbooks on writing, offers some consensus.

Falstaff, one of the greatest Shakespeare characters

Falstaff, one of the great Shakespeare characters

  • Characters should be vibrant. They push against life. Something is wrong in their lives and they set out to change it, whether an external event forced upon them or an internal problem revealed through self-examination.
  • Like real people they should be full of contrasting, even contradictory emotions.  Surprise the reader with how a character acts and reacts. Complex people are interesting people. External conflict often reveals the internal conflicts, the mental fault lines along which a character splits.  The character is forced to make choices.
  • A mix of characters brings realism and contrast. They shouldn’t be interchangeable with one another: the “Bad Guy No.4” in the credits. Humour and sadness ,  for example, whether expressed by a single person, or in a group, become sharper when next to each other.  A wacky character can act as a foil for the more realistic. Or a character can be contrasted against the environment; the city boys in the country; the airhead in a high-powered job.
  • They are often good at what they do, whether it be cutting wood or being a lawyer. Even if they are bad at something, then they are the best at being the worst.

Of course, these guidelines are by no means definitive or binding. Not all these characteristics need to be included in each of your creations. But I think they certainly provide some direction.

With the details set down in black and white, with ambiguity taken away, the characters start to have to make decisions for themselves.  These concrete details are the foundations on which intricate structures can suddenly be built. New, more subtle plot suddenly presents itself.  Cards can be placed on these foundations- and then, as time goes on these lower layers seem to harden and fuse themselves, capable to sustaining structures upon them too, all the while developing in unexpected ways.

In the light of this discussion, it is perhaps telling that my two favourite stories of the moment, Anna Karenina (read the full text here), and the various series of The Wire (The Wire dedicated Guardian Blog), use their respective equivalents of the omnipresent, omnipotent narrator to peel back the inner lives of their characters.  With the same unblinking eye, we see the conflicting, and often contradictory, emotions in all parties. All are understandable as human: all suddenly become rational beings, no longer easily summed up and dismissed by race, wealth, gender or sexuality. The reader is forced to confront the tragedy or blessing of chance: that could have been me.

Vividly imagined, vital characters can help us be better people.  To crawl, waltz, crash out of the hot confines of one’s head, and into another’s: to forget one’s body and become someone else, if only for a moment, and then to return, slightly changed, more sensitive and subtle, is magic and art itself.

Just for your information and my fun, here are my top five characters:

  1. Captain Yossarian (Catch 22 by Joseph Heller)
  2. Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens) (Full text)
  3. Harriet Dufresnes (The Little Friend by Donna Tartt)
  4. William Brown (Just William by Richmal Crompton)
  5. Falstaff (Henry IV Pts. I&II, The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare) (Full texts)

Watch Captain Yossarian collect a medal in the nude below:

Discussion:
Have you been finding Richard’s posts useful? What are you going to take away from this instalment? If you’re doing some writing how have you found the obstacle of fleshing out your characters? Comments and debate always welcome below.

Words: Richard Walsh

Waterstones’ New Voices 2009 – Interview Four – Jenn Ashworth

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Jenn Asworths debute novel A Kind Of Intimacy

Jenn Asworth's debute novel A Kind Of Intimacy

Author Jenn Ashworth is the fourth writer to be interviewed by The Scribbler about being included in Waterstones’ New Voices 2009.

Her debut novel, A Kind Of Intimacy, caught the attention of the Waterstones’ critics last year and with good reason. It is a story that traces the dark possibilities of best intentions going awry. It’s not a comfortable read but then these are the kind of books that get us the most excited. It gives an unsettling glimpse into a clumsy young woman’s life who’s actions would almost certainly label her as a monster if she didn’t have so much in common with the rest of us.

Got your interest? Read the full interview with the talented Jenn Ashworth below then leave a comment in the discussion box. Enjoy!

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The Scribbler: What does it mean to you to be recognised as a New Voice of 2009 by Waterstones?

Jenn Ashworth: It’s very exciting. It’s especially flattering because this is a promotion that involves front-line booksellers reading, reviewing and choosing the promoted books – not publishers paying for them. As a debut novelist with a smaller publisher, that’s levelled a playing field I might not otherwise have had a turn on.

TS: What is different about your writing that helps it stand out from other new writers at the moment?

JA: I think that’s something you’d have to ask my readers. Most have remarked on the uncomfortable mix of comedy and near-tragedy in my writing – not only this novel, but also in the short stories that I publish online. As far as I know, A Kind of Intimacy is the first novel to have ever given the sea-side town of Fleetwood, Lancashire to the world, either. I’d love to be corrected if I’m wrong.

TS: As a New Voice of 2009 you must be inspired by some very contemporary authors. Which writers do you enjoy reading and draw inspiration from?

JA: I’ve just finished reading Ray Robinson’s first novel – Electricity, which I really enjoyed. I also have a lot of respect for my friend Chris Killen, who’s novel The Bird Room was published recently. I think he and I come from very different places as writers, and yet both have a dark sense of humour that comes across in our work. Generally though, my inspiration doesn’t come from books, it comes from people.

TS: Our readers will be very interested in how you approach a writing project. Where do you lift your ideas from?

JA: In the past when I’ve been asked this I’ve said something faintly sarcastic about the ideas tree in the bottom of my garden. My polite answer would be something to do with wanting to explore certain themes and issues that are important to me on an emotional level I’m not really able to verbalise. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I knew I wanted to write about feeling odd and lonely and not quite involved with the world before I started seeing a woman who looked a bit like Annie on the bus in to work in the morning. I worked in a library and when an American self help book called The Surrendered Wife appeared on my trolley, other ideas started to appear. Hard work and seven drafts over two and a half years brought it all together.

TS: When you first began writing how easy was it to find and sign to publisher? Can you talk us through that process?

JA: I first began writing when I was ten or twelve, and didn’t have any idea about finding a publisher back then. The process of signing with Arcadia was the usual one – handled by my agent who submitted the manuscript on my behalf to a few editors he thought would appreciate Annie’s strange character. I did an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester University, and although the camaraderie and the feedback certainly helped me stay motivated and to consider myself as a writer, I wouldn’t say that I made magical contacts there that helped with the search. I’ve since heard that Annie terrified one of the editors at Arcadia, which makes me smile.

TS: What obstacles have you come across in your writing and how did you overcome them?

JA: The biggest obstacle is my own laziness and cloudy thinking. I’d love to be ten times cleverer than I really am. I can feel what I want to say, but can’t catch hold of it sometimes. That’s terrible. I make lists though, and I have a black board to write down words that come to me in the night, and I don’t have a television and try not to go out or socialise too much so I don’t get distracted. The Internet is a big distraction. The instant gratification of online publishing is becoming a barrier to the slow progress of writing a novel. I might need to get rid of it. The internet, not the novel.

TS: We often hear that artists have trouble dealing with their own pieces (i.e. musicians not able to listen to their albums etc.) How do you feel about your own work? Are you comfortable with it?

Jenn Ashworth

Jenn Ashworth

JA: I like the novel – I’m not ashamed of it. I didn’t read it while it was being submitted because I was working on something else, and now the only time I look at it is when I’m asked to do readings. I’m just finished with that one now, and onto something that’s got more of my attention. I suppose I’ve moved on, although I can still see what I saw in her at the time!

TS: Have you already started work on your next book? Is it difficult to leave one piece behind and start new one?

JA: I have started it, and I expect to be finished fairly soon. I think. I hope. It took a year and a couple of false starts and lots of experiments with short stories before I felt ready to write another novel. I needed to read a lot, and rest. Fill up the tank again, maybe. It is going well now, although finding the time is a constant struggle. And so often, when I have the time the inclination is absent. I feel bad complaining though. I’m well aware it isn’t a proper job, because I’ve got one of those too.

TS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given and advice would you give to our budding readers today?

JA: Andrew Motion told me to just write down what happens. I was asking him about some tortuous, self inflicted, silly problem I was having with tense, or point of view, or the Russian doll effect you get when you try to take into account the narrator’s circumstances while they are narrating. Whinging about it, I think, and he very politely told me to just write down what happens. I took it to mean that sometimes you can be too clever, and that it helps to forget most of what you learned during your undergrad degree.

TS: In your opinion what is A Kind of Intimacy about?

JA: I think its about trying to start again and, perhaps through no fault of your own, not quite being able to manage it.

TS: What books inspired you to pick up the pen and start writing?

JA: None of them in particular. I wrote more than I read when I was younger. It’s only since I started making sure that it is the other way round that my writing got any better.

TS: What is your learning background? And do you feel it helped you in writing your novel?

JA: Well, I have an English degree which I don’t think helped too much – although I do love being able to read as well as I can, and the very rigorous and old fashioned way I was taught is, I think, responsible for that and suited me very well. The Creative Writing MA was an experience I wont forget or regret, but I’m still not exactly sure what kind of effect it has had on my writing. As I’m writing this second novel I am half missing the regular support of my classmates, and half glad that I’m writing without stablisers now.

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Discussion
Promote or rant about Jenn Ashworth or any of your favourite new writers for 2009 and expect more Q&As with the novelists on the Waterstones ones to watch list 2009.

Words: Dean Samways

Waterstone’s New Voices 2009 – Interview Three – Amanda Smyth

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Amanda Smyths debute novel Black Rock

Amanda Smyth's debute novel Black Rock

Amanda Smyth has been included on the Waterstone’s ones to watch list 2009, after her debut novel Black Rock was well received by critics. The Independent book reviewer Lesly McDowell labelled Smyth’s story as “a powerful, authentic one” describing the protaginest Celia as “an appealing, earthy, yet spiritual heroine who grows, wounded and embattled, through the course of the book.”

Amanda’s has sited her own Trinidadian roots as being a big influence on her, and after completing an MA in creative writing at UEA in 2000, her short stories were published in New Writing and London magazine as well as being broadcast on radio 4 as part of a series called Love and Loss. After having a number of short stories published Amanda Smyth received an Arts Council Grant for her first novel Black Rock.

Taking time to talk to The Scribbler Amanda discuses becoming published, where she gets her ideas from and what struggles she faced with her debut Novel Black Rock.

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The Scribbler: What is different about your writing that helps it stand out from other new writers at the moment?

Amanda Smyth: Gosh, that’s not a question for me to answer, I think. There’s a great deal of wonderful international writing out there. Perhaps the only thing I might have to offer that’s a little different is the location. My novel is set in Trinidad.

TS: As a ‘New Voice of 2009’ you must be inspired by some very contemporary authors. Which writers do you enjoy reading and draw inspiration from?

AS: I really enjoy reading Jhumpa Lahiri, Jamaica Kincaid, Richard Ford

TS: Our readers will be very interested in how you approach a writing project. Where do you lift your ideas from?

AS: Black Rock was originally inspired by a true story that came from my childhood. My great grandfather was murdered in Trinidad in 1950s, and I began Black Rock with the idea of writing about this event. I strayed very faraway (!) but that was the first seed of thought.

TS: When you first began writing how easy was it to find and sign to publisher? Can you talk us through that process?

AS: Initially I wrote short stories, and after graduating from Creative Writing MA at UEA, I was lucky enough to quickly find an agent, and there was some interest in a collection. Twice I came close to getting the stories published as a whole, but then the possibilities fell through. It was tough. I was advised to get on and write a novel. At the time, I was very in to Jean Rhys, and I remember reading a quote about novel writing from her letters: “All you have to do is start it, get on with it, and finish it.” So this is kind of what I did! And yes, it wasn’t easy finding the right publisher, but it did all come together in the end.

TS: What obstacles have you come across in your writing and how did you overcome them?

AS: I think we all have blind spots, in one way or another. Learning to take criticism from people who know more than me was a big thing. There were moments when I’d feel defensive around feedback. But I think I really learned how to *hear* it, and learn from it and move on. That was so important – in order to get better.

TS: We often hear that artists have trouble dealing with their own pieces (i.e. musicians not able to listen to their albums etc.) How do you feel about your own work? Are you comfortable with it?

AS: Yes, I think so. I know when I’ve tried to take a short cut, and there’s just no point in it. Why kid yourself.

TS: Have you already started work on your next book? Is it difficult to leave one piece behind and start new one?

AS: I have something stewing… And yes, I think it can be difficult, especially if you’re still involved in the current book with readings etc.

Amanda Smyth

Amanda Smyth

TS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given and advice would you give to our budding readers today?

AS: Always assume your reader is much brighter than you are.

TS: In your opinion what is Black Rock about?

AS: It’s a coming of age story.

TS: What books inspired you to pick up the pen and start writing?

AS: In my early days of writing, I think I wrote things down as a way of trying to understand them.

TS: What is your learning background?, and do you feel it helped you in writing your novel?

AS: I wanted to act when I was young, and did bits of TV, commercials, theatre work, so I didn’t bother going to university. As long as I had an equity card I could get work. But then I met a writing teacher/poet/journalist in Trinidad while I was living there. I went to his workshops every week and learned as much as I could. He changed my life. Then I came back to UK and applied to UEA to do the MA in Creative Writing. I found some of the academic work challenging, but the creative writing workshops were terrific.

TS :What does it mean to you to be named as one of the New Voices of 2009 by Waterstones?

AS: This was just wonderful, especially when I saw the other selected novels. And last year’s list was terrific, too. It’s a great honour.

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Discussion:
Promote or rant about Amanda Smyth or any of your favourite new writers for 2009 and expect more Q&As with the novelists on the Waterstones ones to watch list 2009.

Words: Seamus Swords

Waterstones’ New Voices 2009 – Interview Two – Yiyun Li

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The Vagrants By Yiyun Li

The Vagrants By Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li has made it onto the Waterstones’ ones to watch list 2009 after the release of her well received novel The Vagrants.

Moving to the United States in 1996 she had work published in the New Yorker as well as winning awards and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the Whiting Foundation.

Her first collection of works, Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award for first fiction.

Her most recent novel The Vagrants follows a small group in a small town during the 1970s when China was going through a social and political revolution towards a more open and free society.

In the middle of all this hype and excitement Yiyun Li took some time out to chat to The Scribbler. Read the interview below.

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THE SCRIBBLER: What is different about your writing that helps it stand out from other new writers at the moment?

YIYUN LI: I don’t think that is a question I can answer.

TS: As a ‘New Voice of 2009’ you must be inspired by some very contemporary authors. Which writers do you enjoy reading and draw inspiration from?

YL: Of the contemporary authors, I feel greatly indebted to William Trevor, whose novels and stories I read for inspiration.

TS: Our readers will be very interested in how you approach a writing project. Where do you lift your ideas from?

YL: I look for situations in life (from newspapers and from conversations with people) that fascinate or baffle me, and I then go on to make up characters to explore the situations.

TS: When you first began writing how easy was it to find and sign to publisher? Can you talk us through that process?

YL: I suppose I had my share of rejection letters from literary magazines, though I was fortunate enough to have a story published in The New Yorker early in my career, which helped when I signed up with the publisher.

TS: What obstacles have you come across in your writing and how did you overcome them?

YL: I write in a second language, so I am always aware that language will remain a challenge. I keep reading and writing, which seems the only way to deal with the challenge, if not to overcome it.

TS: We often hear that artists have trouble dealing with their own pieces (i.e. musicians not able to listen to their albums etc.)

Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li

YL: How do you feel about your own work? Are you comfortable with it? After I finish my work I don’t think about it anymore. I am comfortable for my work to be read by the world, as by the time my words are in print I am distant enough from them.

TS: Have you already started work on your next book? Is it difficult to leave one piece behind and start new one?

YL: I have started to work on my next book, a collection of stories. I don’t find it hard to leave a piece behind. In fact, it is always a joy to leave the old behind and start something new.

TS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given and advice would you give to our budding readers today?

YL: James Alan McPherson, who was my mentor when I began to write, rarely discussed the crafts of writing when I met him, but every time we met he would say to me, “Keep writing.” An I do believe that is the best advice given to me, and I would pass it on to young writers.

TS: In your opinion what is The Vagrants about?

YL: I don’t think I’d talk about a novel that way, not my books or other authors’ books.

TS: What books inspired you to pick up the pen and star writing?

YL: Many of William Trevor’s stories and novels inspired me to start writing. So has Graham Greene’s work.

TS: What is your learning background, and do you feel it helped you in writing your novel?

YL: I had a science background – I was trained to become an immunologist when I gave up that career to become a writer.

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Click on the clip to see a trailer for the film adaptation of Yiyun Li’s A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers

Discussion:
Discuss, promote or rant about Yiyun Li or any of your favourite new writers for 2009, and expect more Q&As with the novelists on the Waterstones ones to watch list 2009.

Words: Seamus Swords