On the eve of his Australian publishing début,
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in London in May 1949 and grew up there. I left London more than 25 years ago, but I will always be a Londoner. I was lucky enough to have about as good an education as you can get – Charterhouse School and Cambridge University.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I have never not wanted to be a writer, if that makes sense! But I always thought I would do it later in life. Whether that was prescience, self-fulfilling prophesy or lack of confidence, I have no idea. At 12 I certainly wanted to be a pop star. At 18 I think I mostly wanted to be grown-up. At 30 I wanted to be a politician. Possibly I have now achieved the second of these ambitions.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
More than anything, a belief in strongly-held beliefs. Some people base their lives on the rock of certainty; others on the rock of doubt. The longer I live, the more I am attracted to the rock of doubt. I think, and certainly hope, that this attitude is neither weak nor indecisive, and that an admission of ignorance is the essential precondition for knowledge.
Impossible to say. Generally speaking, words and music move me more than art, especially when they come together in the work of obscure singer-songwriters like John Stewart, Tom Russell and Ralph McTell. Novelists I read when I was young – Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Greene, Waugh, Isherwood, Camus – must have influenced me, but I don’t know how. As for art, only Turner utterly inspires me. The next novel will attempt to combine the influences of Stewart, Russell and Turner. Hmmm. All right, let me try and answer. Book: Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier. Painting: Rain, Steam and Speed by Joseph William Mallord Turner. Music: the entire solo canon of John Stewart.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
You do know how to flatter. Because novels are what aspiring writers usually do write, I think. So I suppose the technical answer is “lack of imagination”.
The Breaking of Eggs uses a specific historical context (the collapse of communism in Europe) to explore issues that affect all of us: the nature of our beliefs, the paths our lives have taken and much else. For more detail, I think that Toni Whitmont’s blog describes it perfectly (but then I would say that!).
[note from TW: He really did say that, honest!]
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I have never seen the point in writing books that people don’t enjoy reading, whatever the critical acclaim. So, most of all, I hope readers will find the novel compelling, credible and enjoyable. I hope they thoroughly lose themselves in the story and the characters. Beyond that, I hope it will make them think about things they don’t usually think about.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I admire any writer who can tell a good story that raises intelligent issues about our lives and natures, and the world we live in, without striving too self-consciously to do so. I don’t think there has been a better novelist than Fitzgerald. But let’s not forget poets and songwriters either. Amongst contemporary writers, I most appreciate Julian Barnes.
And others don’t. I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to become a published author at 60. I would just like the health, the energy and the inspiration to continue to write about things that interest me for as long as possible, and to continue to be published. Success would be a bonus.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Probably the same as every other published writer. Be yourself. Never give up. Never believe it can’t happen. And also: don’t assume it will happen either, and don’t believe the cliché that everyone has a novel in them. They don’t. Creative writing courses may cut and polish diamonds, but they don’t mine them.
The Breaking of Eggs is available to pre-order now with delivery from June 1.