An Interview with a Famous Writer

Holly Evans

April 17, 2022


Good evening, Mr. Person.

Good evening, Anne.

The subject of tonight’s discussion concerns your work, your methods, and your subsequent success. Have you anything to say before we begin?

Nothing at all, Anne.

Very well. Let us start with an easy question. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

Let me see. That is not an easy question. If you are interested in the particulars of the process, and not the sensations of creation, that is, you want to hear from the brain and not from the spine, then perhaps I am able to oblige. Writing the first draft of a novel is a very different experience to writing the fifteenth draft, but to be stuck in the marshes of either is at once the most exhilarating and suffocating of sensations. I do not have a favourite part, as you call it. In fact, there are no parts at all. The process of authorship may not be so conveniently dissected. The writer thinks letter by letter. They may grow careless, of course, in certain cursive situations, when the curtains close and the candle wanes, when the symbols themselves lose the facets of individuality and combine to form the word, but it is otherwise a letter-by-letter process.

What do you think makes the ideal writer?

Materialistically speaking, the ideal writer should have access to a couple of things: a dictionary and a pen. Paper is useful, of course, but not essential. In terms of personality, they must possess the emotional depth of an ocean, whilst retaining the elegance of the gull which glides over it.

A pretty picture, that gull. Tell me, in the early days, how did you find the time to write when you also had to work?

The amount of time I have stolen from previous employers in order to write is outrageous. So many hours, I dare say, that by rights many of them likely own more of my books than I do. There exists no force in nature or spirit which can stop a writer writing.

How are you inspired by your contemporaries?

If art is merely a response to life, as people often say, then literature in particular should be considered its footnotes. The work of other writers, live and dead, is, or should be, infinitely inspiring to the writer. The actual production of the work, however, the casting of the pen, the blotting pad which watches from the wings, is of much less interest. I avoid at all costs learning another writer’s methods, unless that writer is dead. The only writer with whom one should compare oneself is the dead writer: they are not able to counter once you inevitably surpass them.

If I may touch on the specifics of your work, what do you say to critics who claim your books are shallow, that is, they possess no real meaning?

The belief that a book must contain a message or moral is ludicrous. It is akin to believing a painting must be absolutely abstract. Having read Orwell does not disqualify one from enjoying Picasso, much in the way a flautist might, if they choose, try their hand at interpretative dance.

How do you balance the form of the words with their function?

If the feather is the function, the ink is the form; if the hand is the scribe, the heart is the poet. Only, therefore, when form and function collaborate can the writer achieve artistic satisfaction. Only then does the result truly reflect the method. And only then will you find the author as they should hope to be found: gagged, burnt, bruised, scarred, and bleeding.

So they are never mutually exclusive?

Wherever function wanders, form will duly follow. It is an unavoidable consequence of the writer’s condition. Within every wink of beauty dwells a tamed beast, and of course, within every beast dwells untamed beauty. The perfect sentence should be beastly and beautiful at once, a claw that knows not only to spare the flower, but to harvest its seeds.

So, what come first — art or objective?

I do not think “art” and “objective” are the right words. “Point” and “presentation” are better. In any case, point is always conceived before presentation. Once one has a point they wish to present, they must then find the most interesting way of presenting it. If one decides first upon the manner of presentation, not only must they scramble afterward to devise a point, but they must struggle against the inevitability of that point’s evaporation into sun-bleached irrelevance.

Do you find the quality of your work improves during episodes of heightened emotion?

A happy writer is a boring writer;  a sad writer is a reckless writer.

And how do you encourage bursts of inspiration when feeling particularly uninspired?

The inspired writer is merely a beautiful ideal, an indulgence with which one should allow oneself only the occasional ephemeral fling, and then, after the haze of release, immediately forget. Many aspiring writers behave like aspiring lovers, and most are even less productive. To wait for paroxysms of inspiration before setting anything in ink is to satisfy little more than one’s own image, the mental reflection which lingers forever in the windowpane hovering over the page.

There are suggestions that you write most of your books drunk. Have you anything to say on that matter?

There is a very obvious reason, albeit a tragic one, so many writers are veracious alcoholics: they do not feel, when sober, enough passion for that about which they intend to write. The muse of alcohol however is a fallacy. Having gladly indulged, the drunken writer is prone to sentimental vomiting. If you are able to abstain, not only will you have a better book, but you may even survive to see it published.

You have a reputation for avoiding happy endings. Is this intentional?

Happy endings certainly have their place. For instance they are very effective distractions. They are powerful tools which allow children to develop certain essential qualities — hope, compassion, and so forth. The mature reader, however, finds it far more interesting that the princess climbing from her window should slip on the mossy sill, or that her drunken prince, the unlikely addict, should overdose behind the shutters of a dubious bordello.

You are prone to writing long descriptive passages which critics have called dry and overwritten. What do you say in response?

The absorbency of the reader’s imagination is of course imperative. It is of equal importance, however, that the lexical lens remains as polished as possible. Finally, the view through the glass had better be spectacular. Let us run a brief experiment. Begin by visualising an orange. Our fruit is approximately spherical. Its colour is hopefully present. The dimples in the rind may have morphed into view. But a wager, perhaps: there is no mention whatever of a tree. Two or three branches, a score of leaves — this is not sufficient. There we have it! Oh, but trees do not float. A tuft of grass would not go amiss. That Mediterranean sun is mighty bright upon the cerulean backdrop. It is daytime, naturally: light is the norm. Objects do not exist in mind-vision under the hood of darkness. The waxy peel is not entirely smooth. It makes a plump and glossy plop when caught in the cup of the palm. That tiddly stream yonder toddles down the gradient. I have not heard a hoopoe’s call in many summer midnights — hoop hoop! You see, without assistance the subject is robbed of its heritage. After all, the mental retina cannot absorb that which does not exist.

You began writing seriously at a later age than most. Do you regret not beginning sooner?

Had the literary period of my life been longer, had I discovered, for instance, the joys of the English language during the summerscape of youth, then certainly I should have written about everything: the shivering leaves, the shimmer of dusk’s silken robe, the feel of its incandescent probes upon my naked travelling toes. Have you ever considered, Anne, the last chirp of the last cricket on the last night of summer? Or perhaps the colour of a library shush in the reading room? You may choose to ignore those hidden frowns, and of course those reflections of yours: strange faces warped by the nature of the looking glass. The scent of stale tobacco in an ivory bowl reminds — what was that? — reminds, as I say, every golden smoker... No, Anne, I am not rambling. Next question, please.