Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview; I know it’s hectic, especially leading up to Writers Week. Let’s start with the writing process…Readers are always intrigued by the process behind the book; how a writer creates their masterpiece. Could you talk a little about how you approach your own writing?
The process remains a mystery but the practicalities are simple: if I’m free of other commitments, I put myself at my desk at 8 or 9 in the morning, try to ignore emails (difficult), and keep writing as long as I can. And with any luck, three years down the line I’ll have a book with some merit to it – even if it’s not a masterpiece.
A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and former Chair of the Poetry Book Society and Vice-Chair of PEN, Professor of Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College; how do you even find time to write?
I’m no longer heavily involved with the Poetry Book Society or English PEN (or the Society of Authors, Arts Council or Arvon Foundation), but that still leaves the Goldsmiths post, which seems to absorb more and more of my time. I’ve not written much for the past 18 months but console myself that I endured a five-year drought once before and afterwards wrote a book very quickly, despite having a full-time job and a young family.
When you start a new project – where does it begin? A character, theme or plot? Are you a planner or do you start writing and leave the planning for during the editing phase?
I began writing as a poet and my writing practice is still those of a poet even when I’m writing fiction – that’s to say, I don’t plot or map out a book in advance but feel my way forward in the dark, building on an image, or intuition, or a voice, and slowly discovering what the story is and who is telling it.
Your list of publications includes novels, memoir, poetry, libretti; what do you gain from taking such a varied approach? Is there a particular format which you prefer and if so, what makes it so special?
The forms seem to choose themselves, if they’ve not already been chosen by a person commissioning me (as happened with the libretti) – it’s not that I intentionally set out to be a Jack of All Trades. I do enjoy the different challenges which different genres present, though. I’ve no favourite among them – each has its distinctive difficulties and rewards – but perhaps the memoirs matter most, because the closest to the stuff of my own life.
Speaking of memoir, how involved were you with the film version of And When Did You Last See Your Father? and what new experiences did this bring?
I didn’t write the screenplay (David Nicholls did) or choose the actors (who were excellent), but I did go on set once or twice, both in a studio and on location, and I was consulted by the director and producer. It was a good experience; I liked the film and admired the care and seriousness with which everyone involved went about their work. But I also had to let go – a film is not a book, and though my book was very personal, a family memoir, I had to trust others to do what was needed to make it work as a movie.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for both established and new writers in the current economic climate? Is it all doom and gloom or are there positives to be explored?
Seamus Heaney’s last book emphasises the need for a writer just to keep going – and that’s how I feel. Things are changing, and you can’t ignore those changes (e.g. with e-books and blogs) or expend your spirit being grumpy about them (the Internet’s a marvellous invention), but you also have to stay true to your own vision.
Thanks again, Blake, for taking the time to answer these questions. I look forward to seeing you at Listowel.
Blake Morrison will be reading on Thursday, June 2nd at 3.30pm in The Boy’s School Concert Hall. Click here for details of how to book.