The View From Here Interview: Julian Barnes
Julian Barnes is the award winning author of over 10 novels. Two of which have picked up Booker nominations and his latest novel Arthur & George was Booker shortlisted in 2005 . In the past he has been, amongst other things, the deputy literary editor for The Sunday Times, the London Correspondent for the New Yorker magazine and has appeared on Desert Island Discs . He currently lives in London.
His latest book is Nothing to be Frightened of.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
Six foot two,
Eyes of blue -
Will that do?
Faulkner said a writer's obituary should consists of the line: 'He wrote books, then he died.' Not a bad anonymity to aim at, but nowadays impossible. So: born in Leicester, studied modern languages at school and university, became a lexicographer (so not afraid of words) then read for the bar (so not afraid of lawyers) then became a journalist and novelist. Supports Leicester City (so not afraid of defeat)
What's your ideal night out/in?
I think the ideal night, whether out or in, depends on having been preceded by an ideal day. One ideal would be a day of satisfying work, followed by cooking dinner for friends. Another would be a day spent walking through the French or Italian countryside, and ending up in a small town where there were no other tourists, the heat of the day holding long enough so that you could eat out at a small bistrot or trattoria and sit there, drink in hand, watching the world go by.
What is your favorite book?
It varies from Shakespeare to the Oxford English Dictionary to the Michelin Guide to France to Flaubert's Letters to Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book.
How did you get your first publishing deal with your debut novel, Metroland?
I went in for a ghost story competition organised by The Times in about 1974. The winners had to agree to offer their first work of fiction to the publishers Jonathan Cape. This wasn't a hardship, as Cape were the leading fiction imprint in the country. Five years later I handed in the novel. They asked for lots of changes, but published the book. I've been with them ever since.
In Nothing to be Frightened of, you say that if you were to live your life again then you "could discover quite new sorts of disappointment." Are there things that you would still like to try and do you think they will deliver or, as you say, lead to further disappointment?
Yes, I think I said: discover new pleasures and interests as well - some of which will probably end in disappointment. That's the nature of life. Given an eternal lifespan we like to imagine we could succeed at most things. But let's be realistic: given the time left, I reckon that if I took up, say, the tango it'd probably end in disappointment. I think what I want to discover from now on are new places and new people rather than new skills.
I know you like France, are there any other particular places you would like to visit?
At the start of the year, I went to Chile and Argentina for the first time. I'd love to know Latin America better. And go back to Russia (where I haven't been since 1965). And hike around New Zealand. Libya. Norway & Finland. And so on and on...
As you say that this book in not your autobiography, can you give us an anecdote you would include if you were ever to write your life story.
I'm going to duck this, for the simple reason that I might need that anecdote: if not for my 'autobiography' (which I doubt I'll write), then for fiction.
Fair enough! What are your views on author and celebrity autobiographies and why do you doubt you'll write one?
Well I shan't write a 'celebrity autobiography' because I'm not a celebrity. I doubt I'll write an 'author autobiography' for various reasons: a) my life (away from what happens in my head) wouldn't be of much interest to readers; b) even if it were, there are privacy questions - not just your own: you can't write an autobiography without touching the lives of others; c) I'd rather people read my books than considered what sort of person I am; d) the form of the autobiography often governs its content, and I find its form conventional; so e) I was only ever going to write a partial, bit-of-me, slice-through-this-part-of-the-head type of book - which I guess is what 'Nothing' is.
Part 2 of the interview on Monday, where Julian talks about reaction to the Nothing to be Frightened of main theme: Musing on death.
Plus a review of the book and then on Tuesday Part 3 of the interview and a clip of Julian on YouTube.
For the Julian Barnes website click here.
For part 2 of the interview click here.
For this interview in the printed magazine of TVFH click here.