|Homepage> Interview with Authors|
A. Completely new to me. But I am sure there would be lots of bad reviews as well as good reviews. I think it happens at a certain stage. People respond and reviewers respond. They feel they have to take a stand, make a mark whatever and so on. The Guardian. You can never get a good review out of Guardian anyway. It does not bother me but I don't want to give an impression that I don't care what people feel or think about what I write because I do. The people I care about are the readers rather than the reviewers, 12 or 14 people who don't represent a sort of significance sample.
Q. But you must have a sense which is the better book of yours?
A. I don't think it is the job of the author to make value judgment of his own works.
Q. You must have a feeling about it?
A. I feel that On Green Dolphin Street is probably of all the novels I have written the one that in the end is the closest to the conception that at first had of it . What normally happens when you write a book is that you have this pure bright shiny vision which is what inspires you and drives you. A sunny pleasant day with caves of ice. This is the thing you really want to capture and put in a book and share with people. Then after 3 or 4 pages, your rather sort of grubby little fingerprints are all over it. The limitations of your ability and style and your mental machinery have already began to tarnish this crystalline beauty. And I think On Green Dolphin Street, of course that happens. But it is closer to the book that I wanted to write than any of the other books.
Q. Which would suggest you are getting better?
A. I ought to get better because I have practiced more. I ought to be getting better.
Q. You have this vision. Isn't it the plot, the character, the setting?
A. No, it is more than that. It is the entity . It is the whole thing. Of course these things are the part of it. But I see the streets of New York, I see apple, I see Martini glasses, I see the short dark haired woman, I see this tall newspaper man. But they are all charged. The whole thing is filled with the particular and peculiar character of the book which is the important thing, which is this slightly frivolous renaissance indulgent world which is nevertheless charged with the eminence of death.
Q. Which in all your books it a love story set in the time of conflict? What it is about love and conflict?
A. I suppose the reason I 've written a lot about sexual love and passion is that it is just one of those few experiences in life that allow people to trandescend the limits of what they are. It is such an extraordinary and a rare thing. Incidentally I think quite few people really have something really extreme experiences of that kind. But when they do, they gonna reflect on the ordinary moments of day and month of their life. And they see it in many different ways. It changes the outline. It changes the set of the rest of your life. And I suppose as far as war is concerned only Birdsong is actually a war novel in that sense. In Charlotte Gray, there is one shot fired. But it's not really a war novel. In On Green Street Dolphin, there are no shots fired. It is not a war novel at all.
Q. But your characters still even in On Green Dolphin Street which is et at the end of 50s they remember back at a time when there were killings?
A. Yah they remember the Second World War in which all of them have taken part. That was the 20th century. That wasn't what happened. I did not make it like that. The question really is not why in my books especially in On Green Dolphin Street, the three main characters have all been affected into a minor or medium extend by the effects of Second World War. Question is why in so few other books is this the case when in actual reality this is what happened. Why have such few novelists allowed the impact of large public events particularly wars in the 20th century. To effect their characters in the smallest way, why did they live in this closed system in which the bigger world is completely excluded? Why did the stories of wars become confined to a kind of boy zone. Why were not they allowed to be shown as having a marginal but an important effect in the lives of man and woman as suppose is the case. And yet for many people now, wars in the sense don't mean so much. They have not experienced war.
Q. Would like to see action at some point ?
A. No, I mean I don't think you can read Birdsong and think that this is a book written by someone who is hankering for bullets.
Q. You are curious though whether it is Birdsong, Charlotte Gray or this latest book On Green Dolphin Street. You seem curious about what it would be like to go somewhere?
A. I don't really feel that's the case. But I think I am interested. But my interest in war is for the impact that it has many years afterwards or in subterranean ways. The lives of ordinary civilian people and their intensely lived private lives and loves,. That's my main interest in war. It's first impact not for its word so. That there is one interesting aspect of war and that is going into action at a given moment and I think what is interesting about is it would also redefined your sense of yourself in the same way as we were talking about. These feelings of trandescend in the sexual passion. I think you have to go over the top into a wall of machine gun bullets. You have sense of expend ability and unimportance of your own life which would obviously and primarily be extremely frightening but with that I think also be liberating in an odd way. You see yourself as an atom in a huge chaotic world. The feeling of human beings without significance, I think would be liberating and interesting as well as merely terrifying. So I think that aspect of it I am interested in.
Q. You introduced many people to the First World War. Many people thought perhaps a lot about Second World War but very little about the First World War particularly the tunnels. Was that something you before you started the book you set out to do you thought it would be a curious setting?
A. Yes, the First World War was slightly a paradox in the way people knew about it in this country. So far, as it was not much written about until the late 20s and then you get a lot of a high quality officer's memoirs. Then it seemed to fall really rather out of the public memory, public consciousness because of the reticence of the people who have been in it who were traumatized and did not want to talk about it and so on. And it of course was immediately followed by the Second World War. You say it was right for rediscovery and reintroduction. But any sort of half way story profoundly familiar with all these events they never have gone away. So as a novelist you are trading a fine line because you don't want to bore people with things they already know about but on the other hand you don't want to underestimate the level of public ignorance. My way of dealing with this was to reimagine in very direst terms the Battle of Somme, the first day of the Battle of Somme, there is nothing sideways or bleak about that. It is the biggest battle, the biggest day and so on. I also thought that if I gonna take people over this terrain which is very head on and will be known to something. I have to tell them something that they did not know. That really nobody knew. And I came by accident really on this story about this people who built tunnels beneath the battlefields joining the two enemy lines. Just by chance, I read a book about it. And then I did quite a lot of research on it which took very short time. Because there was hardly anything written about this subject. Whether because these enemies were not just literary people or what I don't know. Once you are aware of it, then you do see reference to it even in the quite famous museums but they are only glancing reference.
Q. Did you get much response to it?
A. It is one of the aspect of the book that readers respond to very strongly. The idea that there is this inferno above the ground but beneath the ground there is even more intense somehow even worse inferno. It is somehow beggar's imagination. People's personal and emotional responses to this is very strong. As far as the kind of reminiscences, I have not had people saying my father was a miner or an engineer. I don't know that's sort of reticence. I don't know may be they don't just read.
Q. Many people who have read it would have thought it would make a great film. They have plan to make it a film but it is taking its time.
A. It is taking its time. The script is being written and at what draft stage they have reached I don't know. I think they hope to make it next year. But it does present problems to them upscale and finance. But in my view, it is an easier film to make than Charlotte Gray because in Charlotte Gray, everything if significant is internal and the external is insignificant whereas in Birdsong that's not the case. However the film world does not see it in that way. They have almost finished the film of Charlotte Gray.
Q. Have you seen it?
A. I have not seen it. My view is jolly good luck to them.
Q. Is it bound to be disappointing for you if the film doesn't do well?
A. I don't think it is bound to be disappointing at all. I have read all the drafts of the script and it is very different form the book. I am not sure there is a single scene in the film that is in the book. I am not sure. I may be wrong about it.
Q. They changed the ending, didn't they?
A. The ending is different. But what it has is it has a kind of fidelity to the core of the book and fidelity is principally to the character of Charlotte Gray. And I think that all else flaws from that. And if Kate Blanchett is as good as we all know she can be then I am cautiously optimistic about it.
Q. It doesn't bother you people messing with your stories whether it is Birdsong or Charlotte Gray?
A. It bothers me having people trampling in my flower bed in a sense. But you know in practical way, you shake hands and you bang the cheque. It is out of your hands. You really don't have the rights to complain. But also perhaps more interestingly I think what they have done with Charlotte Gray is to produce something which has a strong family resemblance to the book but isn't too close. I prefer something that is a just cousin to a half brother. The last thing you want as a novelist is for the term writer to have slightly get the wrong end of the stick all the way through and to slightly misunderstand every scene, every emotional switch and also to write in lumpen English. And I have had that experience with the previous script of the film not made and it was just traumatic and appalling. The script of Charlotte Gray is very different from the book. It is dramatic in its own right. And I say it is good stuff.
Q. I can't imagine how you gonna feel when you sit down and see it for the first time?
A. It is going to be very emotional. Actually I have seen about one minute of the film. It's a very strange feeling. Initially it is strange because these things just something you dream up one day in the bath. Charlotte Gray never existed and yet suddenly there is a new dimension of existence with real people playing imaginary parts. But the most moving thing is that it goes right back through your imagination, back into Birdsong from which Charlotte Gray sprang and back actually into real life, the real 20th century and you think Christ you know I was a part of this. I was a small dot in this and I have tried to reimagine all these events and channel then through my imagination into picture now that they have open out and back again and suddenly you feel on your shoulder the hands of the dead soldiers of the First World War and you feel the hands of the small children. You think have I been faithful to them. Have I done then justice? And that's a big feeling.
Q. I sit what you imagined because you wanted to be a novelist?
A. I always wanted to be from the age of 14. I wrote my first novel at the age of 14. It was very good but it had one drawbacks which was it was only three pages long. I really been through the whole story and the enormous number of narrative and emotional turns but at the bottom of second and half page that was it. Couldn't really understand how people sort of got to page 300 so it took a little bit of time for me to figure it out. Actually when I was grown up and left university, I started writing novels properly but they won't good at all to begin with. It took me a long time to figure it out.
Q. Mention Birdsong to people and many will almost say immediately it is the most beautiful and sexy book but then Charlotte Gray, you won an award for Bad Sex Writer from the Literary Review which seemed extraordinary? Was it a fair award?
A. It was given by O'Brien Braun, one mischievous drunken man. I don't want to say anything about poor Braun who is no longer with us anyway. It is not a serious thing. He just wanted more publicity for his magazine and he thought if he gave it to a serious novelist rather than to a celebrity model, it would get him some more publicity and he was right and it did.
Q. It wasn't a fair criticism ?
A. I don't think so. It wasn't a criticism. It was a publicity.
Q. It was an accolade then.
A. Well, no. It was a publicity.
Q. Is it easy to write love scenes?
A. It isn't. The conventional wisdom is that vocabulary doesn't exist for it. Its either overblown sub-romantic or else it is anatomical. However the writer's job is not to give up in the face of intractability of words but to make words work for him and try to find ones that can convey. And I think it is possible. But the real question about writing about sex is first of all the choice which is exceptionally difficult if you really want to explain for whatever reason what is going on between two people. Choice of words is very difficult secondly really what to what end. What do purpose does it serve? Describing two people going through this rather comic and mundane act. They are not many times in fiction as in film where you really learn anything significant about the characters from it. In Charlotte Gray for instance there are two love scenes that I recall. The first one I describe because it was a very dramatic way of finding she has never slept with a man before. It tells you something about her. It tells you something about him. There are not many instances in which closely described sexual activities really pays much dividend to the readers.
Q. Many of the articles about you describe you- How old fashion you sound? Some of the articles make you sound old-fashioned in print.
A. I suppose grammatically I write in quite a strict sense and I ve quite a wide vocabulary and I am a ferociously pedantic about the accurate use of words. Perhaps that is what was meant by old-fashioned.
Q. May be because of your background. You went to a boarding school, repressed background.
A. Some people seem obsessed because people bring their own agenda to this. I remember one interview I had recently who just couldn't talk about the books at all. he went on and on and on about the fact that I ve been to a boarding school. This was few months in my life very very long time ago which I think made very small impact on me. But for the fact I quite enjoyed the friends I had made there. I learned quite a lot of Latin and Greek.
Q. So the next book is...
A Is certainly in the 20th century. But I have only half an idea at the moment. You need more than one idea to write a biggish novel. I ve got a feeling or a throb beginning of a melody if you like in the back of my head. But I need more than one idea. You have to put at least four or five ideas together and then they have to be fertile and reproduced and I m not sure they have reached that stage yet.
Q. Do you have absolutely no doubt that it will come?
A. I feel reasonably confident that it will come. And I m not prepared to even contemplate the fact it will not come. Because that way lies the most appalling bleak future.
This is a just a part of
his interview given to BBC and there are still many questions left to be
answered therefore if you like me to continue this interview, you may just tell
me by posting it on the guest book.
Arthur Miller talks about 50 years of a classic, his play Salesman's marked by Robert Fall's new production, with Brian Dennehy's wrenching, heartbreaking performance as Willy Loman, the salesman caught in the collapse of a life based on "a smile and a shoeshine".
Q. It's been calculated that "Salesman" is the most widely produced play in the world. It seems to be universal.
A. The theme of the brutality of the system towards man- this goes down everywhere, in France, Germany, Italy, Spain. Sweden, Argentina. Marcello Mastrioanni told me his first acting job was playing Biff. In Japan, an actor just retired at 90 after playing Willy for 30 years. In the '80s I went to China to direct the play at the state theater in Beijing. I was the first foreigner to direct a play in China. The American Embassy gave me a dinner, and people there said, "The Chinese are never going to know what the hell you're talking about." But the US ambassador said, "No, they invented that kind of family. They invented business." "Salesman" has never stopped playing in China.
Q. How did you first envision Willy?
A. Willy started out as a little guy, and his wife was a big woman. We interviewed a dozen small actors, and it became clear to (director) Elia Kazan and me that they didn't have the size for this. So they gradually got bigger. Finally we landed with Lee Cobb who was 6'3" and 220 poinds and Mildred Dunnock, who weighed about 96 pounds. Since then I'm not sure it matters, because Dustin Hoffman was very effective. It's the spirit. Brian is a bull. When he came onstage for the first time, we got the feeling of "God, when this guy goes down, we're going to hear some noise."
Q. Why did you make Willy a salesman?
A. Well, I 'd been brought up with salesman all my life. Everyone was selling something. And the salesman was and still is emblematic of so much about America. There's nothing substantial underneath the transaction, you see? This country is manufacturing less and less. We get more more and more abstract.
Q. Your rarely talk about (former wife) Marilyn Monroe. The suicidal Maggie in "After the Fall" was based on her. And I remember a story you wrote in the 50s, about a woman with an almost mystical sensitivity, that seemed clearly about her.
A. Yes, it was called "Please Don't Kill Anything." I love that story. Like the woman in the story, Marilyn identified with that which was being destroyed, whatever it was. She could walk into a room and in a minute know who was an orphan. Two, three passing words in conversation. She could detect someone who was basically unmoored, who felt they could be disposed of easily because they had been disposed of.
Q. She had that mixture of childlike vulnerability and sexual power.
A. That never happened again. And she was a great comedienne. That's why she remains to this day the icon of the century. Making "The Prince and The Showgirl" with Maurence Oliver- they were quarreling and shouting at each other. The great actress Dame Sybil Thorndike was in the cast. She pointed to Marilyn and said, "There is only one person on this set who knows how to act in front of a camera, and that's her."
Q. British poll for the greatest plays of the century "Waiting for Godot", "Death of a Salesman" and "A Streetcar Name Desire" You're especially popular in Britain, which seems to give your recent plays a warmer reception than they get here.
A. Yes, I have two or three plays running in England. The are in subsidized theaters, so a play does not need to run for five years to get its money back. They can do what they feel is important to do. We don't have that here. There is no social organization of the theatre, no way to produce (straight) plays without bankrupting the backers.
Q. Why has "Salesman" retained its impact for 50 years?
A. I get letter all the time from people in whatever country it's playing, saying that the play seems to have been written yesterday. I keep trying to figure out why it gets this reaction. And after all these years it suddenly occurred to me that it may be some hidden aspect of love. Everyone in the play loves Willy. The only one who does not love Willy is Willy. May be that is the explanation, that flow of profound love.
-Newsweek Feb 22, 1999
© Copyright 2001 Webmaster. All Rights Reserved.
For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org