Adam Foulds

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

This is meet the writers Georgie Godwin, my guest today is opposed under novelist. He's the author of four novels in one dollars of poem, and without exception. Each word has been showed with praise he's been winning prizes since he was first published in two thousand and seven from the Sunday Times young writers ward for his debut the truth about these strange times to the cost of poetry prize for the broken word. He's been shortlisted for the Booker prize when the European Union prize for literature unborn aimed as one of grant as twenty best British novelists under forty. I didn't false. Welcome to meet. Thank you for. I mean, that's just a short section of some of the things that you've won or been shortlisted for and it seems extrordinary than that in your early life being novelist. Didn't really feature. You thought you wanted to be zoologist? Yes, that's true early on aged around ten or so I became very passionate bird watcher and very interested in natural history. And thought I would go on to study zoology so took the GC's reprieve for that. And during the middle of that period. When I was fifteen I had an English teacher suggested, I write a poem for an English class, and that somehow just tumbled the lock in my psyche kind of immediately, and I felt very strongly that was who I was and what I wanted to do. And so had a very definite. And very fortunate sense of vocation immediately fortunate is because it it made. My kind of identity very clear to me, and my life choices at least academically, very simple, just followed. The path allowed me to spend time with the literature. I loved which enable me to continue writing. I mean, your teachers recognized this to even suggested that you keep your anywhere because one day it would be in demand from academe IX. Yes, that's true. I mean, I'm profoundly grateful to the very good very attentive teachers that I had that age their interest in my work and their sense that it was worthwhile. Mirth pursuing really gave me a bedrock of confidence and sense of purpose enabled me to carry on through the linear that were inevitable and the rejections that are inevitable. I think ninety nine percent of writers received more rejections than they receive acceptances and that was true for me early on. And you have to be tough. And pig headed to keep going. So I'm having that those early messages of encouragement in my memory Bank in me to do that. What about your parents were they encouraging certainly, yes, I'm very lucky. I very nice and supportive parents. I'm one of four children have been very encouraging and supportive of all of us. Now various parts, you'll father started off as an accountant. But he later changes of rabbi. That's right. Yes. See took early retirement having gone. I think is far as he could in his accountancy career and worked as rabbi for a number of years where he left home by the time this happened. But it was a fascinating. I'm very satisfying to watch him go through that process. It was had a trained as an accountant her to vocational education and very successful career as an accountant, and it was wonderful to kind of piggyback on his studies and see what was that? He was learning and to watch the the expansion of his world at that time. Because of course, some of you earliest literary influences were Philip Roth. And so Bella. Yeah. That's true. So I guess what we're saying is I. I come for Jewish background northeast London. End of the central line suburban Jewish kid. I got very interested in poetry and then later on as I became interested in pros. There was a particular thing that happened when I read Saul bellow and Philip Roth and malamud and the other great American Jewish novelist, which was to find my world, very directly reported and recreated in their fiction, something which happens much less frequently it seems in their poetry is one of those moments that happens with lots of people in lots of different identities where you realize that you've been living in a marginal culture that your terms of reference are not shared by the majority population. When you feel an kind of intensity of reaction when you find your world reflected back at you. You went on to study creative writing the fabulous year. Invested East Anglia MA creative. Writing course under again, some very influential teaches like Craig Raine. Well, Craig right on she was to that. I had when I was doing my undergraduate degree. I was not at the college that he taught her, but I did take some classes with him. And I took a creative writing module that he gave really didn't count towards wants to grid. You. It was a thing that he did for one term each year, you could submit some poems or whatever kind of writing. And if he took you on then in a small circle of writers who would meet once a week? It was a very good course, actually, he would it was taught the Matic -ly. We it was a two hour session spent an hour and a half reading examples of things that he had brought together on that theme action writing whatever it might be. And then in the last half hour, we would quickly respond to each other's poems. That would submitted. For that week and been circulated beforehand, which is the right proportion at that stage of at she just absorbing and reading too critical personal response unto the to the because I mean that's world renowned for producing amazing amazing writers did you find that was your launch pad? It certainly helped. I mean, it was recommended to me to do by Craig on the basis that if you can get the money together for it. Then you've got a year to write and at the very least on that level. It's a good thing to do. I went through the poetry stream though, I was starting to write more prose and poetry that time. I had to fantastic tutors in Andrew motion, and Denise Riley, people whose work lives with me. And who I'm still occasionally in conversation with so fantastic in the workshop experience, certainly the profile of that. Course means that you can be assured that when you are sending your first writings out to prospective agents in that kind of flailing hopeful way, that you do y'all fairly sure that it will get red. And that's clearly an enormous advantage. That said I left you a not yet ready really to be taken on by an agent, and possibly tempting that too soon, and I had a slightly kind of bumpy time before I settled with my first agent, but because I had things to learn I had writing to develop and the main thing I had to learn is that in that first stage what you really need is a completed first novel because agents, generally, speaking interested in taking on someone who hasn't yet completed at least one novel is very hard and unlikely thing to do and the only way to prove that you can is to have done it. This was in the. Beyond the late nineties around kind of two thousand two thousand one when the had been a lot of these very kind of big splashy book deals for young writers who just submitted a couple of chapters, and so it was a time of big advances for the Safran, foes, there's eighty Smith's of this world, sadly dentist anymore. You working at that time in the completely unrelated to writing publishing, do you think that that's an advantage is helped sunny fed into my writing, and it helped that I helped me at least that I didn't stay in an academic environment. That I didn't go to do which was a kind of quite natural thought for me, it causes some anxiety later on in that period because I had only ever taken on jobs that were simply to pay the rent, and that allowed me all of my mental space for my writing, which I was doing in that time in my lunch breaks before work. I was using my holiday periods to writing as well. So is working in retail as work. I worked in a warehouse while and that's fine. And very interesting. And some of that experience goes very directly into my first novel, but passing through being thirty getting thirty one and having taken that course, and the possibility that the first novel won't happen. Get picked up you realize that you've taken a big risk. Yeah. So it got a little scary towards the end. But fortunately worked out. Well, it lets out supremely well because the truth about these strange times when the Bessie award at the Sunday Times young writer the year award. I mean, that's an incredible result for debut novel. Tell us a little bit about that book. So it's start with the characters as a central character who is called Howard his living in burn in the north of England of Scottish origin from Glasgow originally is the child of a mother who has recently died. He is working part time in a gym. As kind of menial person, Jim and he is a kind of diffuse personality unambitious one point. I describe in MOS not lazy just naturally at rest. So someone who is like picking up the sweaty tiles in the gym who's bumbling along on his own someone who from a lot of people a lot of the time would just been your peripheral vision, and certainly counts for nothing significant socially. And he threw a set of circumstances ends up in the company of a family with a son who takes part in memory competitions, and is a sort of hot housed child of very ambitious parents. So these two very highly contrasting situations, the kind of socially invisible unambitious person who is nonetheless, I hope very engaging and humanly valuable. All set against someone who is constantly having the value measured in kind of competitive meritocratic way, it ends up with them Howard, and the boy soul running away together and being fugitive for awhile, and it's a kind of comic novel in meant to be funny. A lot of the time those are the characters what I was had the as it's kind of philosophical center that I was kind of chewing away at was looking at this idea of contingent on non contingent human value to look at what makes a person valuable, and how a person might inhabit the world and experience both in terms of socially, visible kinds of success and bowl nebulous, but nevertheless, essential human qualities, and the book was as we say a huge success. Is that one of the reasons why you change? Give feel next work and went into poetry rather than stick with prose. No happened. Because well for number reasons, I was sending around the truth about these strange times to agents looking for it to find a home and in that period. I couldn't bring myself to begin another novel because I didn't know if this I would happen. So I didn't want to set off on something large scale and commit myself to another couple of years on something. So I wanted to write something smaller the subject matter of the Perm, which has to do with the memo uprising and the interment camp system in British Kenya. In the mid fifties was something that came into my life and struck me in the form of a review of two very significant works of history that were published around the same time about this story. One by a Harvard. Historian could Caroline elk. Cnn's her book Britain's gulag and one by British historian, code David Anderson was could histories of the hanged, and I was very struck by this material, partly because I had not really heard about it before which overseas to some extent is life. Oldest my ignorance, but also it felt like that silence. About very intense conflict that happened very much within living memory was something that was repressed in British cultural memory, and that intrigued me, and it charmed, I guess with my Jewish cultural background with having a strong imagination structuring education in holocaust history, and amongst other things therefore being aware of the processes of bringing people to Justice after the holocaust sometimes long time after the holocaust and being aware that this was something that hadn't happened around this conflict, which did involve large amount of extrajudicial. Killing and that there would be British people either in Kenya all been golf club balls in the home counties who had lived through this and participated in it, and that seemed to me outrageous. And compelling, and I wanted to break that silence. I wanted to join in with breaking that silence in the way that these works of history had done. It took the form of a poem in particular. Because I wanted to write it in a very hard stripped down classical way, I didn't want to editor realize about what was happening. I wrote it from the perspective of young boy British boy who's going through these experiences. And I wanted the reader to have his experience which was to be suddenly picked up by these events events accelerate and intensify and to be spat out at the end of it as that individual would have been having to make sense of it for himself seem to me, obviously true for a lot of these experience of his of historical crisis, particularly in the twentieth century, you know, the people millions of people were caught up in serious conflicts. Mad things happened. They come out the other side of them into a post-war piece of various times and often were not discussing those events of two. It's they lived with those memories they were sealed once again into a kind of normal peaceful civilian life and lived with those as just purely kind of internal realities and history again formed the backbone of unique all historical research, then formed the backbone of your next piece of work the quickening maze. Yes. The idea that material came to mind came to light for me as an undergraduate reading about Tennyson and about Claire I was very interested in clan. This is in the nineties. There was a big Claire revival going on there. Lots of interesting stuff being written about him. I had just missed Oxford shameless Heaney's Paradis, professor of poetry there. But his Oxford lectures had just been published including a very good one on John Clare. I did go to Tom Paul ins classes, he was a big John Clare, advocate and critic, so it's very interested in him. I read pita Levi's, I think it was Bogra fifth Tennyson and discover that Tennyson Claire had been in the same place at the same time. And that this place was very narrow at grownups. I suddenly these two very charismatic and interesting ghosts kind of materialized in my own back garden, and I thought I want to write about this in some way at some point. But I didn't want to do it until I thought I would be capable of doing it in a way that well that would satisfy me, and it also allowed me a little more of the temerity required to take on writing about and somewhat in the consciousness of these two extraordinary literally figures, so as I say it was over a period of years that I. Read absorbed material about the obviously with a very intense period. When I finally after the break word thought that this was the moment to write that book, and it was incredibly successful when the unquote reward the European Union prize for literature shortlisted for the man Booker prize in that, of course, was the Hillary Mantell one really really strong shortlist mental ultimately child thing and shortlisted also for the wolves to Scott price for historical fiction. There was then a big break why the Longa between that anew next book in the wolf's mouth? I think those first three books came out in successive years, which was very very unusual thing to have happened. That's partly because the broken word came first and feverishly was written quickly. And then because of the way that publishing delays work. I was able to pretty much finish the quickening maze. Before the broker mode was published or at least would have been writing it anyway over that period. So it's a combination of having got to the end of a large spell of very intense work and that spell at she having lasted years previous to that time all those years of working those jobs and using my lunch breaks holiday allowances to two right? So I heard then to deal with both are I guess an accumulated tiredness to some extent, but also the discombobulation of being published even just for the first time, and the fact that it happened as you say, I was very lucky with the recognition of various literary prizes so hunting this kind of accelerating and amplifying way over these three years that was something that I had to sort of simulate even I remember the first time, I met my first publisher. Was very confusing in some sense experience for me because it had been so long sort of brewing. And I went from a shift at the warehouse. I was working in to an office full of and met sort of half dozen people who read my book, I I'm never met a stranger who read anything I'd written. And it's a difficult transition is an it's a can be quite sort of frightening. I did have to learn. What it means to develop a public self or a profile that you realize early on and she detaches from you. And it's something that you might want to kind of manage from outside, or at least know, psychologically detach from you not to feel panic about the fate of your external self in the world. That makes and that much comes onto your latest book dream sequence which hazardous hard celebrity. It's about an actor youngish actor who through one very fortunate piece of casting has had a very successful time in a TV show that became incredibly popular, and that's gone on for a few years. It's been a bunch of seasons of that. And it's now just ended and he is very ambitious very anxious and looking to transition into big another kind of actor looking to achieve the sort of success that he thinks will allay these anxieties so we'll following him. We're also following someone who is following him from a distance who is a fan who has on one occasion met him. And when she did so has had a very intense caused a religious experience of of a profound metaphysical. Meeting in which it was revealed to her that they are twin souls, and that they ought to be together. And also that the universe is a magical place and that has its as it central law. Universal love it's a very sweet and mystical set of perceptions that she has and she knows that she has to find him again and engineers situation, which they can be together as this is what the universe clearly intens. I love this concern many levels. It's very much a London novel. Isn't it? It is. Yes. Which couple of my books have been in a way I mean, but this is a very contemporary novel. And it was a novel that emerged out of wanting to engage with the culture right now and the sense of image status, anxiety precarity. The intensity of our hypnosis of by various forms of media and by the textures of the contemporary cities. So yeah, I was excited to do those acts of describing take on London now and the whole examination of celebrity, and what that means an an how people can suffer from complete illusions about celebrities that they they really don't know. Yes. I think that's clearly true intensified now by our sense of connectedness that exceeds even that of the past where we would see people appear on television in magazines now, we have Twitter and Instagram, and even if people are not themselves using those social media platforms as Henry doesn't. He is one of those people who thinks that avoiding it will increase. Piece his cash. There are constant alerts and updates about those people. So it's Kristen has her Google alerts set up for him and has a sense of being electrically connected within also which is quite extraordinarily the way the world changes. When you got that to poetry are you apart? Would you say I mean, if you had to categorize what you were are you both I would say, so I'm enjoying working in different forms, which is something. I'm doing right now been working on a book of essays. I've been writing something that sort of aphoristic short thoughts and descriptions around a particular set of themes, and I'm starting in on a new novel, very to a short film for friend. So I like expanding into different ways of writing shapes of writing. I think the poetry is there in the pros at least I like pros. And prose writer so bellows mentioned dates Lawrence's and other who write a pros that is very linguistically live where the word choices are vivid on constantly interesting, and that has breath and has rhythm. So I like pros that has a lot of the qualities of good poetry. I would certainly like to write more purchase that would be published as the broken word was in the form of poetry book. I don't really write lyric poems. That's a matter of another subject matter, like the broken words, demanding that form it's telling every so often, I think about what that might be an I starts and things, but I keep the door. Open invitation open if something comes up, and in the interim we have back catalog that we can be reading and this wonderful new book, it's called dream sequence. It's published by Jonathan Cape at fellow. Thank you so much for coming onto meet the writers. Thank you. Keep listening to meet the writers thanks to the production team of judgment on and David Stevens and Christie Evans, you could download this show and previous episodes more website up from soundcloud, mix cloud or I chance on Judy Godwin funky. Thank you.

Coming up next