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An Interview with the Author, Part Three

My continuing (and somewhat remorseless) interview of myself:

What is the purpose of stories? And of storytelling?

To fool you.

Do you believe that people like or want to be fooled from time to time?

If we did not have the impulse and ability to believe in the impossible, we would not have religion, democracy, or marriage.If we did not have the impulse and ability to believe in the impossible, we would not have religion, democracy, or marriage.

Do you believe in any superstitions?

I am so superstitious that I think even discussing this subject is dangerous and will probably bring me terrible luck. Having been raised a Catholic, superstition becomes almost part of your DNA. The challenge is to slowly rid yourself of these little delusions. Not since a boy have I worn the Brown Scapular — which promises that the Virgin Mary will deliver from purgatory those who wear it on the first Saturday after their death — but my sister, to this day, still sends me St. Christopher medals to protect me from death while traveling.

I do, however, believe firmly that smoking will kill you (it killed my father). And I believe that salty soup means the cook is in love.

May I ask you, what is your philosophy of life?

Life is not a waste of time.

How did your love for books develop? Was there a special book or an incident which aroused the wish in you to become a writer? Would you like to tell me how that happened?

When I grew up my house contained only two books, the Bible and the Edmonds cookbook. We were a working-class household. Books were a poor second to the television, which was always on, usually with me in front of it. A critical moment for me was when my sister gave me an Enid Blyton book when I was seven. It turned me into a reader. Trips to the local library followed. My reading diversified. In the novel I describe the arrival in the small-town library of the Encyclopedia Britannica. I remember vividly my trips to the library to turn those Bible-thin pages, the crisp sound they made, the density of the writing, and the sense that all knowledge was contained in their pages. It created a rare sense of the infinite in me that, with Google, has become commonplace. It was only many years later that I turned from a reader to a writer. I was a university student. If there was one book that did it, it was The Norton Anthology of American Literature. It showed me that literature could be about the ordinary, and be written by ordinary people.

Apart from novels and screenplays, you write plays. While writing a play, you probably think in a different way. In which way does this influence your work as a writer?

Dialogue always seemed to come easy to me. Playwriting taught me how much of the action could be contained purely in what is said. My novels, as a result, probably contain a little more dialogue than you normally see. Also, I learned the dramatic importance of making characters speak in a distinctive way that is unique to them. Novelists often overlook this and have everyone speak more or less the same. This is not true to life. Lastly, a play needs to be built around a strong unifying premise and three questions: What does this character want? How do they try to get it? And what do they actually end up with? I find myself asking the same questions of all my stories.

Who has the honor to read your texts at first? Who is the first person allowed to read your work before all the others do?

Ah, honor is hardly the right word. I simply have a few friends whose opinion I trust, and then there are my marvelous editors, in Germany, the U.K., the U.S., and New Zealand who provide vital input. And it is vital. Readers seldom know how much work is required to get a manuscript ready for readers. Assistance comes from many quarters. Perfection is never possible, however. To paraphrase a famous poet: Literature is never finished. It is only ever abandoned.

(Read Parts One, Two, and Four of "An Interview with the Author")

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Anthony McCarten's debut novel, Spinners, won international acclaim and was followed by The English Harem, the award-winning Death of a Superhero, and Show of Hands. He has also written 12 stage plays, including the worldwide success Ladies' Night, and is a filmmaker. Brilliance is his new book.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Brilliance Sale Trade Paper $8.50
  2. The Norton Anthology of American... Used Trade Paper $5.95

Anthony McCarten is the author of Brilliance

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