‘It takes me a long time to get over the writing and editing of a book.’

In this Man Booker 2018 longlist interview Michael Ondaatje tells us where the idea for Warlight came from and why it could take a while before we see his next book.

What inspired Warlight

I usually creep into a story by focusing on a fragment that has possibilities. I don’t begin with a large plan or theme. That will be discovered during the writing of the first draft, which tends to be more like a reconnaissance . Warlight began with the seeming abandonment of a pair of teenagers at the end of the Second World War. I knew little more than that. 

The English Patient is set during WWII while Warlight is set after. What draws you to writing stories set in this era? 

This is only the second book of mine that deals with World War Two. I have also written novels about New Orleans jazz at the start of the 20th century (Coming through Slaughter), bridge builders and their politics in the 1930’s in Toronto (In the Skin of a Lion), a civil war in Sri Lanka during the 1980’s (Anil’s Ghost) and a 19th century western (The Collected Works of Billy the Kid).  Also, Warlight felt like a very different book to The English Patient, it was much more of a domestic book about the post-war period. 

Favourite Man Booker-winning novel? 

As I said at the Golden Man Booker ceremony it is a mug’s game to try and select just one favourite book. There are so many wonders that did not win the Booker in the first place. And there are even more wonders that did not even get nominated. 

What are you working on next? 

It takes me a long time to get over the writing and editing of a book. I was at Warlight for five years and it feels that I have only recently sent it in. 

Michael Ondaatje 2018 - Agence Opale Alamy Stock Photo