Finding connection in solitude Margaret Atwood & Mark Haddon
Hello and welcome back to the vintage podcast with me. Lena gnomes seven thinking today. A lot about Margaret Atwood not only because the world outside our window seems in some lights to have F. O.'s of the world she writes about but also because in the stylists remarkable women award. This week she has been awarded the icon of the year in her. Obviously remote into the she said many kinds of artists a glamorous actors and singers. It's part of the job but writers and not among them. We often feel shy or went out in public since craft is a solitary one and we are alone when writing we words onto paper and those words talked to others when we aren't there and you think about the nature of how we're going to be living for the foreseeable future and how strange for that to be a collective experience together and apart all at once fun fat. The vintage podcast is turning ten years old. This year separated from my wonderful vintage colleagues alone in my kitchen. I started rummaging through vintage podcast archives looking for solace. I found it in two interviews from way back when one from two thousand twelve and one from two thousand sixteen cuts me if we're looking to learn the art of solitude and connection surely there's no one better to learn from our office they have nailed the Long Lane Road. That leads to empathy independence. The first into younger share with you is mark had author of the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime most recently the porpoise. He's talking about book. We published that. He contributed to stop what you're doing and read this. Which is an excellent but by the way is one of the books already as go as a bookseller in one of the books that made me want to really work vintage books and he talks about how he believes in the power of a good novel. A term he defines as a piece of work is humane and generous. I particularly found comfort in his description of reading as a compensation a reader and a writer sitting opposite each other. In each other's company I can write plays and films and even poems in which some of the characters are genuinely unsympathetic for which you and the reader feel no empathy partly because those forms are spectacle to a certain extent. You you can sit back and watch it from a distance but I think all novels A conversation I I tend to picture a novel as you. The writer and the reader sitting in adjacent chairs talking quietly to each other. You know a novel is never declaimed or acted out or overheard. It's it spoken quietly to the reader and of course a really long conversation and to make the long conversation work you've really got to you with a like the narrator. You're gonNA like the person who's talking to you. They can be taught or scathing satirical. But they've got to have an underlying warm both towards you and and towards the people they're talking about and I think you can see that. All great writers and Dickens in Jane Austen George Eliot in Tolstoy and in fact in Warren Pace. You can see where it doesn't work because when he does start declaim in those separate chapters about his theory of history he can lose you completely and it's one of the great novels in the world where no one reached the last chapter. Because he's just telling you stuff you don't really want to know. I think this is particularly true of Virginia Wolfe It's not just her warmth than her interest in the people she's talking about but the speed the ease with which she seems to flow in and out of different people's minds in and out of different consciousnesses in a very short period of time often around dining table in and out of the minds of people talking with with one another and I think the way in which she does. That makes you very aware of something about your own mind personally. I'm always reading Virginia Woolf and thinking Yes yes yes that's what it's actually like to be a human being not just that stream of consciousness stuff which she does so well the way you flick from memories of Childhood Your plans for dinner to the fear of death all within thirty seconds the way we move from sense of loneliness sudden empathy with people around us the way we feel sort of sealed in one moment and then suddenly we dissolve and we realized that we members of a group of people or we members of a family and a part of verse exists within all those other people in the room at the same time the way we move from our past to our future back into our president. I think there are other right to have a wide range of characters and a wide range of situations. By doting. There is anyone who understands articulates what it is like to be a person from one moment to the next so the other interview. I found interesting was one. The Margaret Atwood gave on stage all those years ago when she'd written novel taxied. If you don't know already exceed is retelling of Shakespeare's tempest in the interview. Margaret Talks about the theme of exile in tempest. And how she explores to have writing the contrast between freedom. I'm confinement. I know a lot of us feel like we're in a very strange very necessary. Exile from our normal lives in big. I'm small ways so I hope like me find this interview. Refreshing or at least a little comforting. Let me start by asking about the genesis of high exceed. Of course it's part of the hogarth Shakespeare series but why the tempest yes. Why the tempest Luckily I was early on the list of people who are asked so I got I got my druthers and that was my brother because I had thought about it quite a bit before. It even written about Prospero before in my book on writing which is called oddly. Enough a writer on writing it used to be called negotiating with the dead but I think the day word was a bridge too far for some people in the publishing industry. They don't like the D. Word. No no not always coming to say it does what it says on the tin it. Does I think what it says on the tin. So it's not about my writing and it's not about how to write about. Who are these writers? What do they think they're doing? And how are they different from other kinds of artists and The chapter in which Prospero of here's is a chapter on diabetes. Magicians because of course writers are dubious. Magicians they create illusions and are those illusions always benevolent. So that's what I what I was writing about in that book and one of the other ones in that chapter is the wizard of Oz. Who has he says is A good man but a bad magician he has no real magic. He's an illusionist. So what you need to ask about any writer probably is. Are they a good man but a bad magician or have bad man but a good magician? Which is often also true or possibly. They're good at both but Prospero in the tempest is very ambiguous. And therefore the he's been open to many different kinds of interpretations. It's also play with a lot of unanswered questions. And it is the one play above all in which Shakespeare is writing a play about what he actually did all his life. He's writing play about a director producer. Putting on a play with the aid of a very good special effects man called aerial. So that is what happens in the book and a director producer puts on a play by means of which he hopes to get revenge on the people who have done him dirt twelve years before them. Light on the setting. Because it's one thing. It seems to me to consider prosper on his magic in an essay. It's another to construct a whole story which you could read perfectly plausibly. I think without even knowing that the tempest existed I think it helps to know that the tempest exists and by the end of it. You're certainly going to know that the tempest exists. Because what they're putting are isn't is the tempest. So how did I come to all of that? The epilogue has always been very intriguing to me which Prospero's steps out of the play addresses the audience. But he's still prospero. He's not saying hello. I'm an actor playing Prospero. He is still prospero and that play is about guilt and forget and forgiveness and and and liberation because the last three words of it are set me free. But it's a bit puzzling in the epilogue of what is Prospero guilty. Why does he feel guilty? And from what is he being freed now that he's outside his own play so I wanted to explore that and a number of the other unanswered questions in the play. Such as who is Caliban Dad? Really if you don't happen to believe that has been impregnated by the devil who actually choose leave so you then you then address this this idea of freedom and imprisonment very directly. It's inevitable because everybody in the tempest at one time or another is either imprisoned or being threatened with imprisonment. And the only person who who isn't really supposed Miranda because because she was too young when they fetch up on that island to realize that it's a deprivation I was very struck looking back at some of the conversations that we've had before over the years the last time we talked we spoke about heart goes last and I happened to to note down one of my questions to you then. Which was that when I thought about? The heart goes last. It really seemed to me to be about the construction of identity within society. What are some of the prisons we build for ourselves? And how do we maintain our freedom and so it seems to me that that that idea of imprisonment and freedom as Peter Camp Course noted in the Sunday Times is something? That's run runs right through your work. It goes certainly all the way back to alias. Grace which is said in the mid nineteenth century and concerns of a woman who got put into a prison for her part or possibly not her part in a double murder that took place in eighteen. Forty three of a real one So I thought about a lot about it then but I was. I was then involved in a protest involving prisons in which the government before this one in Canada. Shut down the prison firm programs and a lot of people quite upset by that because one of the things that those programs taught people was empathy Caring for someone other than yourself. Even even if that someone is a cow. So it's a it's a begin. It's a start so and over the years. I actually have known people who taught in prisons and I've known people who have been in them so it was. It was interesting to me to explore the the effect that studying literature and in particular studying Shakespeare can have on people. I think it's very useful if you've been deprived without experience to be put in a position where you are imagining what it's like to be somebody else known. A lot of people have gotten to a certain point in life without ever doing that. They've never had the opportunity and there are a number of books written by people who have taught Shakespeare in prisons and say that it's quite an amazing experience and so Felix is this overthrown Felix was. They aren't history. Director and director of of a of a festival called in the book the Makassar Wag festivals. Say Waiting yes. It is an an indigenous Canadian where it is a lot of place. Names are in in Canada and the United States and it means box but there is is the festival somewhat similar but not identical with these dropper. Shakespearian Festival Somewhat similar to but not identical with the town of Stratford Ontario. Which ought to have but does not have a pub called the IMP and pig nut. I better out better. We'll have one now. So he's been deposed of because he was so immersed in the magic of putting on his place that he didn't notice that his second in command who was who was handling all the boring Monday in practical affairs like money. Raising and meeting with the Board of this guy has has hatched a plot and he is suddenly thrown out so he goes off to brewed in the in the sticks in the closest I could get to to Prospero's cave tempus. These things do exist. They were early willing. Dwellings built by pioneers and they would build them into hillsides in order to conserve the the heat. So there are some. And I know one of the men so I modeled Prospero's refuge on one of those and then he gets a job at the prison starts to teach plays. He teaches the ones that he thinks are really going to go for such as Julius Caesar and Macbeth and Richard. The third things that are easily understandable of by people who've had something to do with crimes. Revenge is and in gang warfare but the tempest the tempest is a stretch. He really has to sell the tempest because at first. They don't want to do it. They think there's a ferry and nobody wants to play a ferry. Nobody wants to play a young girl for pretty obvious reasons but he finesses the he gets them to think of aerial not as a ferry but as a space alien in which case everything the Darriel does is pretty understandable. Flies around you know. Eat SPL HOURS ALIENS DO. Let's okay and when he also says that areolas the special effects guy then everybody wants to be on that team and he finesses the girl by hiring a real actress whom he has known in his previous life. And he convinces her to come in and play. Miranda and I'm not gonNa tell you anymore but what happens. Thank you so much for listening to the vintage podcast. What are you reading? During this strange season we would love to hear. You can find us on instagram and twitter. At vintage books. We are going to continue to find new ways to pop these podcasts. Into your feet so never fair. But perhaps in your absence of your ability to physically explore one elsa fiery drawback catalogue of bookish episodes with a Mug of something nice keep reading boldly on thinking differently until next time.