‘I didn’t know you were short sighted’, a friend emails.
I’m just about to email back that I wear contact lenses when I stop for a minute to think. ‘How did you know?’ I write instead.
It turns out that CBC have already been running snippets of the conversation recorded in Vancouver last week during the Studio One Bookclub. I enjoyed myself so much, and it felt so natural to rattle on about all sorts of things – rather like you would with a group of friends, that I’d almost forgotten it would be broadcast.
I think this is largely due to skills of the presenter, Sheryl Mackay, and also to the fact that I was sitting next to one of my writing heroes, William Gibson who wasn’t just saying the sort of things about my writing that I wouldn’t even dare dream about, but we were actually finding things in common.
Important things, such as loving the ridiculousness of British follies. Here are the two I mentioned during the show – The Jealous Wall in Ireland, and the extraordinary underwater ballroom, and here is the book William Gibson recommended, Follies and Grottoes by Barbara Jones.
And also we found that we shared the same AHA moment of putting on glasses as children and realising all the amazing details we’d been missing. Funnily enough I’d been thinking about this a lot before the interview, so it was interesting to talk about it with someone else who had the same experience. I must have been seventeen when I got my first pair of glasses, and I really can remember thinking, ‘wow, that wall has bricks in it and I can see each one.’ More frighteningly, I’d started having driving lessons when the world was still in a fog and my poor driving instructor kept asking if I was in love!
But what if it was the blurriness I’d put up with before glasses that helped make me the writer I am today?
I’m sure it made me the reader I am. For a long time television, and even being with other people, made me tired, and I understand why now. BUT I could hold a book at exactly the right distance to see every word clearly and so shut out the rest of the world that wasn’t quite making sense around me.
I really need to think more about this. I know there are lots of writers who wear glasses, and it’s normally assumed that this is because we read too much as children or something equally stupid. But what if, rather than the egg coming first, it was the chicken? Perhaps by not seeing everything clearly, we were forced to make up our own connections, or stories, about what we were experiencing.
Anyway, back to the broadcast.
I read extracts from C and V in Something Beginning With, and also a complete short story, Toad in the Hole, from Leading the Dance. (First of all though, I had to describe what Toad in the Hole is. This led to an interesting discussion when I was signing books later, because THIS is what it is in Canada. Eggs in bread – who knew? So, if the lovely woman who told me about the Canadian version emails me, I’ll honour my bet with her because we were both right!)
We talked about endings, editors, turning short stories into novels, journals (I keep one, William Gibson doesn’t because he thinks that what he misses wouldn’t be worth remembering anyway), whether we finish reading all novels we start, and much much more. One of the things I’ll treasure is when William Gibson commented that there are certain writers – Iain Sinclair for example – who he enjoys so much that he will sometimes just dip into their books, no matter where in the narrative, and know that he will get pleasure from their words. YES! That’s the sign of why WG is such a true writer for me – one who loves the words, the sentences, the rhythms, as much as the plot.
Was I nervous? Hell yes. But as much about meeting William Gibson (and also not wanting to let him down as he’d recommended me) as being on air. I shouldn’t have worried though, he really is just as cool as his books.
And as for the broadcast, once I was started talking, I couldn’t stop. I loved it, and just hope I made sense! You can hear the show on air (if you’re in Canada or can get CBC) over the next two Saturdays – the 3rd and the 10th September – and it will shortly be podcast, with details here.
In the meantime, you can read some accounts of people who were there:
Cookies are a good thing, right?