It’s terrific to have you on one of our lists again. But your reputation as a great British writer is so well established, and has been for so long, one wonders if you need any kind of endorsement any more. Do you write purely for yourself, or do you always have an eye on ‘the market’?
All writers – and I mean all – want more readers. One more, ten more, a thousand more. And so you do what you can, and take what good luck sends your way, in the search for them. But, at the same time, I write for myself. I think as soon as you try to second-guess the “market” you’re doomed. You must keep your integrity but you want to spread the word – a very human dilemma: I’d like my cake and I’d like to eat it as well.
Amory’s life is so extraordinarily varied, a constantly changing series of backdrops. Does that betray a secret wish in your own heart to have lived a more complex, diverse existence?
One of the great advantages of writing fiction is that you can send your imagination to places you wouldn’t dream or dare of going yourself. I’ve never fought in a war; but I have in my fiction. I’ve never killed anyone (you’ll be glad to hear!) but I have in my fiction. I’ve never been to the Philippines, but I have in my fiction. I’ve never been a woman, but I have in my fiction. And so on. For the lazy, stay-at-home, un-intrepid novelist it’s a wonderful privilege to lead the vicarious lives and experiences that your fiction allows.
The historical detail in this book is impressive. You began writing long before search engines such as Google; how much has the internet simplified the task of research?
The internet is an incredible boon. I used to spend days in libraries doing research. Now I can do all that at my desk at home. But researching a novel isn’t scholarly or systematic – it’s very random. You never know what might catch your eye, what might work for your novel—so I haven’t abandoned libraries. Sometimes the sheer volume of information on the internet is daunting – where to start? The actual map, the old newspaper, the guide book, the memoir found at random can unearth riches that hours of internet searching won’t provide.
Do you leave a decent interval before starting another book, or are you halfway through the next one already?
I do leave an interval because I also write films and TV – and now plays. After finishing a novel I feel my brain has emptied and I need to let it fill up again — and these other activities effortlessly encourage that refuelling. However, after a while, I realise that a corner of my mind is beginning to ponder the next novel and, slowly but surely, that begins to take over. It’s over a year now since I finished Sweet Caress and I have a very clear idea of what my next novel will be. I think about it every day and, sometime later this year, I’ll probably start writing it. But only after I’ve figured the whole thing out.