Thursday, 10 September 2009

BANVILLE ON WRITING



Two interesting quotes on writing from an interview with John Banville in last Sunday's Indo.

"...when the observation's being done, it's not me," insists Banville. "I sort of slump like a marionette and he [the person who writes the books] does the observing and then I come back to life."

Weirdly, I know what he means. I often wonder where the hell the things I write about come from, much like dreams. There is some sort of alter ego who is the writer. The other me is the Mom, the shopper in Tesco, the partner, the one who watches East Enders etc. etc.

Banville on characters and the writer's self:

"Characters are never real people. What you do is, you take tiny details - somebody's eyes on a bus, the back of a child's head - they all go into an amalgam. Most of the sources you forget, and this new thing, the character, is made. Just as you do in dreams. But they're all me. I'm the only material I have. Just as in dreams every person is you."

Yes, John, exactly!

The rest of the piece is here - it's not a great interview: the interviewer seems to be afraid of him and Banville is quite reticent and fatigued with the whole thing, it seems. Worth a quick read though, if you have a spare five minutes.

14 comments:

fiona said...

I also interviewed him recently, where he drew an analogy between characters and dreams: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2009/0829/1224253451887.html
I found him fascinating, and, as the interview points out, "highly entertaining."

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Hi Fiona
THanks for that - I still haven't managed to read that Saturday's paper, never mind last week's (the joy of babies!) so I just read your interview now. You certainly got more out of it (and him) than the Sindo's interviewer. Well done. It's an enjoyable read. I just love Banville, every awkward and mega-talented and opionionated bit of him!
Nuala

whereimbloggingfrom said...

I'm between two minds on this. Sometimes it annoys me when writers talk about writing as a magical process or the story "writing itself" or characters "taking over." Much of writing is very unmagical and unglamorous and I often feel like the process should be demystified.

On the other hand I, like you, do kind of get what he means. When I play camogie, I often don't think about what I'm going to do - it's instinctive. And writing can sometimes be the same way. But I never experience the same degree of possession that Banville seems to.

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Eimear, there's also the thing that maybe he thinks/talks about it in weird ways...

And, yes, writing is slog. I get annoyed by people who say 'I think I'll write a book' to me, in this airy-fairy, anyone-can-do-it-if-you-did kind of way. There is no acknowledgement of the work, the time, the effort. And dare I say it, the talent required. They are usually friends, which makes it twice as annoying.

Emerging Writer said...

Hey Nuala, I just heard indirectly that I've a poem in Abridged. Your name was on it too. Did they tell you?

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Hi Kate
Yes they did tell me they were using a couple and the mag is on its way, apparently, this week. The ed has been under the weather.
N

Rachel Fenton said...

I read some of my stuff sometimes and think someone else wrote it and I get a bit flustered by this other me that can do that. It's a great quote to capture that aspect of writing.I feel I have different creative personalities from my everyday self. I just think of the times when people who've read what I've written and also know me say "did you really write this?" But there is the majority of the time when everything that goes on the page/screen just is not good enough and I wish, for those times, that I could go off and dream and for it all to be written when I woke. No such luck. Delete, delete, delete!

I get really narked when I hear/read of yet another journalist who decides to quit their job to go on a round the world trip and then pops out with a book, the best agent, and a whopping great advance! Just sour grapes that one though!

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Is it sour grapes though, Rachel? When you write for a living (a v meagre living) and then some journo/TV star decides to 'be a writer', pops out a mediocre book and gets gazillions of airplay/reviews/coverage, it IS annoying. Especially when you KNOW they are not in it for the long haul - they are not compelled to write, it's just a side thing, a notion. It bloody makes me CRAZY!

Rachel Fenton said...

Well, ok, you're right, it's the thing that most makes me pull faces like I'm acting in a bad toothpaste ad from the 80s and go GRRRRRR - they took my place, and for what? But, I figure, like you say, they're not in it for the long haul and they'll vacate my place in time...only there's a never ending supply of them. Essentially, I try to be philosophical about it because I cannot change it! Glad I'm not the only one who gets narked by it! :) Might write a post about it and really stuff my chances of an agent/publication!

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Au contraire re stuffing your chances - it'll just prove you are serious about writing. That it means a lot to you.

fiona said...

WRW: Thanks for that - I really enjoyed the interview, I have to say. And I love his cocksure attitude - he's totally self-aware in it, which is somehow hilarious rather than grating.

Will also just row in on what you were saying about those who suddenly decide to knock out a book to pass the time. Though it's not entirely comparable, I sometimes get irked when friends suggest that they fancy writing an article, as if it didn't require work and a certain methodology to do so (and sometimes, dare I say it, talent?), so I can see how annoying it can be when that happens with writing. And it is unfair that journalists then end up with huge advances because of their public profile. Yet I would also argue that many journos enter the business because they are compelled to write too, and either didn't have the balls to go full time into creative writing, or need to put food on the table and therefore see it as the closest paying version of what they really want to do. It's possible that some of those people have been writing on the side for years, and only grab an agents' attention when they've built up enough of a profile in the media to do so. And that, though that one book may be all they get from their deal, they'll go back to their normal scribblings afterwards, much like every other asipirng writer . . .

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Hi Fiona, yes, I can see how that can be true re journalists & writing, but it can seem unfair to full time writers with v little income, when those with incomes (like journalists, academics, celebs) get whopping advances, thus reducing money to all others. I do take your point, that they like writing, they may even be very fine creative writers, but it's still irritating to me, perhaps wrongly so.
In a similar way, I'm sure models get totally peed off with actresses winning all the huge campaigns too.
It'll probably never change!

Emerging Writer said...

DO you think that by paying large advances to celebs, journos, academics(??) there is less money for mid-list authors? I have heard it argued that the high selling celeb or Dan Browns of this world make most of the profit for the publishers, enabling them to take on less immediately commercial and more risky authors, such as emerging writers

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

I think the days of huge advances to celebs etc are over but IMO they sucked up so much money and time in publishing houses there was less money and time devoted to 'real' writers.
The last 5 years or so have been v fallow for fiction writers. TG, things seem to be on the move again but advances are now miniscule.

The point about academics is that they already have guaranteed, steady incomes. Most writers (at least full time ones) don't.