Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Writing up and down with A.S.Byatt

Last weekend I appeared at the Cheltenham Festival, talking about David on a panel with H.M.Castor (Vlll) and Pauline Francis (Traitor's Kiss), very ably chaired by Nicolette Jones. It's the third time I've "done Cheltenham" which is only down the road from me and I always enjoy it. The sun always seems to shine, the Green Room is the BEST (beating even Edinburgh's Yurt) and the other events are always interesting.


And this time my book was actually set in the same century as the other two writers' - namely the 16th.

After our session, I went to hear A.S.Byatt talk about her latest book, Ragnarok, which is in the Canongate Myths series. I've always loved the Norse myths best of all - Balder the Beautiful was the first story I can ever remember being told - so I was specially interested in how she might have treated it.

Wagner's Gotterdammerung, which I was pleased she didn't dismiss, is sometimes translated as Twilight of the Gods but can mean Death of the Gods.

What Antonia Byatt wanted was a really bleak ending in which the black waters cover the earth. She was being interviewed by Libby Purves, who is a bit too perky for this subject. But then I remembered they had both lost a son, so maybe she had some empathy with her subject.

What struck me very forcibly was that Byatt said she would not any longer be able to write novels about characters who were much younger than her. I think that's a shame. But I understand what she means, though in her case it's about the technology as much as the moods and emotions.


So I hope she will reconsider. There is a character in Ragnarok called The Thin Child in Wartime and Byatt could write about her because she is really the author herself. The child who was moved out into the countryside from Sheffield in the war.

She would finish her work ahead of time in the small rural school she attended and then be allowed to browse in the book collection, which was where she discovered the Norse myths.

About ten years after her I was doing the same in my Secondary School Library, while bunking off games. Balder was speaking to both of us and the bleak beauty of the downfall of the gods.

9 comments:

Kelly said...

Byatt's been my favorite writer for years. I've grown old alongside her, and I'm pleased to know I can look forward to characters of my own age or older.

Me said...

I was lucky enough to hear A S Byatt at Cheltenham and delighted to hear that she is already working on her next book about a psycho-analyst. Have read all her books, she is streets ahead of most other authors in my opinion!

Anonymous said...

No Kindle edition?

Ampersand Duck said...

Her point wasn't that she couldn't write about younger people, but that she couldn't write about contemporary younger people, because she doesn't understand their perspective. She's still happy to write about younger people in different eras, like with The Children's Book, and from her own era, like with Ragnarok. Lucky you, being able to encounter her live. I'm reading R at the moment, and really enjoying it.

Katherine Langrish said...

ooh, looking forward to reading this one!

Melinda Belle said...

I understand her feelings. Byatt is my favorite author and it's difficult to find the perspective of contemporary youth if you do not live in it. Also, even as a teenager I am sure Byatt was different. Not the norm. Great post.

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