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The novelist in a time of political turmoil

The novelist in a time of political turmoil

‘The pressures on people in every walk of life to take political sides; the rigid certainties, shading into self-righteousness and sinister aggression, of ardent, often youthful factions; the agonising about the 'role of the artist' in a time of political change. And . . . the nagging sense of how difficult it is to see clearly above the dogmatic fervours of one’s day; and the fear that time and history would show that for all one’s good intentions, one had backed a wrong, shameful, even evil cause, and wasted one’s best years and talents to it.’ Surely a cri de coeur brought on by the world turned upside down courtesy of Brexit? No, Kazuo Ishiguro (Man Booker winner in 1989 with The Remains of the Day) at the 30th anniversary of his novel An Artist of the Floating World recalling the years in which it was written, the febrile 1980s – the time of the miners' strike, Wapping, the Falklands War, IRA atrocities and Mrs Thatcher rewriting the nature of Britain. Plus ça change . . .


According to the 2003 Man Booker winner DBC Pierre, he had never met a novelist until he was standing in the foyer of the offices of Faber & Faber having just signed a contract for Vernon God Little. He may have had experience of being a smuggler, drug user, cartoonist, wannabe bullfighter, actor and conman but not of being a writer. Pierre is clearly a man who likes to learn his life lessons the hard way. So aspiring novelists should pay attention to his latest book, Release the Bats: Writing Your Way Out of It, an idiosyncratic guide to the writing life. Among his words of advice are: ‘Write something down and, at the first sign of something unexpected, stop. And start the book there’; ‘If you're worried about doing it [writing] badly, the night before you write, the last thing before you go to sleep, visualise it going well’; and ‘If it's pressure that you need to make you work, then tell all the people you know that you're going to write a novel and tell them when you're going to finish the novel.’ Of course following the DBC Pierre rules doesn't mean you'll write like DBC Pierre, but it's a start.


The National Youth Theatre clearly has a bit of a soft spot for the Man Booker, or certainly knows an arresting story when it sees one. This summer and autumn seasons see productions of not one but two Man Booker books – Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Man Booker 2007 shortlisted) and Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English (2011 shortlisted). The former has a short run, 23-27 August at the Finborough Theatre in south west London, the latter a more generous allocation, 26 September to 22 November at the Ambassadors Theatre in central London. Just a suggestion but perhaps film, television and theatre companies could give a donation to the Booker Prize Foundation (the prize's charitable wing) every time they adapt a Man Booker book. Such is the number of adaptations (Wolf Hall, The English Patient, Room, Atonement, Life of Pi, Notes on a Scandal, Never Let Me Go to name but seven) that the Foundation's biggest problem would be spending the cash quickly enough.


A quick game of ‘Name the Poet’. Who wrote the following lines?


‘We clamber over stony Greece,

we slink through Polish forests,

it is winter, our toes freeze,

we gnaw on stolen turnips,

we retreat from Moscow

burning everything.’


The poem in full, Movie Goer II, has, complete with an explanation, just been republished by the Times Literary Supplement and dates from 1973. The author has written 15 collections of verse. Her name? Margaret Atwood.