‘I always have to know my characters in a lot of depth–what clothes they’d choose, what they were like at school, etc . . . And I know what happened before and what will happen after the part of their lives I’m dealing with.’ Alice Munro
I’ve been watching some interesting author interviews recently, so I decide to start a series of blog posts on interviews with different authors. There should be nuggets of wisdom for both readers and writers. Today, Stuart Evers interviews the Booker Prize Shortlist author of Narcopolis, Jeet Thayil, at the Faber offices. I love Faber books and when I discovered Faber Finds (launched in 2008, it has brought 1,000 out-of-print titles back into print) I stocked up on some fantastic books. One of my favourite books is Love and Freedom by Rosemary Kavan. The wife of a Communist in post-war Prague, she pens an emotionally charged memoir of her life through the Prague Spring and the trials of the 50s. I bought this for book research for my novel. Honestly, though, I would have read it and kept it regardless. There was a certain amount of serendipity in the fact that the first edition, bought second hand before finding the Faber edition, arrived in the post with a letter from a young girl to her sister. The letter was a deeply personal one and dated February 1993 – the exact date of the start of my novel.
So, if you have just under ten minutes to watch the interview – I’ll grab a coffee while you watch it – I’m sure you’ll find Jeet’s conversation about the writing process really interesting. What strikes most readers is the sheer length of the first page – 7 pages – a structural idea, which came to him much later on. It caused him to go back and re-write, having found the essence of the story. I have read a great deal about plotting and structure and the need for pre-planning, but I’m a writer who likes to let the story unfold as I lay the words down. Having finished my novel and some recent short stoies, I honestly can’t imagine planning it all out in advance. For me it crushes the creativity. Other authors would disagree, I know.
‘I’m not one of those guys who knows before commencing work exactly how the story is going to go – beginning, middle and end. I discovered it as I was writing,’ says Jeet Thayil.
What are your thoughts on plotting versus letting the plot unfold? How do you write? What works and what doesn’t?
I’ve started Narcopolis today and the descriptions are lyrical and sharp. It is an intriguing read.