Showing posts with label William Boyd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Boyd. Show all posts

Monday, 31 December 2012

My favourite novels of 2012

It’s New Year’s Eve, so what better time to look back over a year of brilliant reads? I love reading about other people’s favourite books of the year, so as 2012 draws to a wet and windy close, here is my list.

Australian ML Stedman’s first book is the moving account of a young lighthouse keeper and his wife in the 1920s. The couple live on a remote island off the coast of Western Australia, barely seeing anyone from one month to the next. Then one morning a boat washes up on the shore, with a dead man and a crying baby inside. As I wrote in the Daily Express earlier this year: “Keep a box of tissues at the ready – Stedman’s book is a real tearjerker.”

I was lucky enough to hear Rachel Joyce speak about her work and cherish her description of writing as “like having knitting in my head.” Her debut novel is the touching, uplifting story of a man in his sixties who leaves home one morning to post a letter to Queenie Hennessy, a friend he hasn't seen for 20 years. She's dying, and on the spur of the moment he resolves to walk from one end of the country to the other to see her. He has no walking boots, no map, no compass and no mobile phone, but he’s adamant that he’s going to keep on walking till he gets there.

Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French
As the years go by, I like crime novels and thrillers more and more. I’m a big fan of Ian Rankin but my favourite crime novel of the year was Tuesday’s Gone. The second of the husband and wife writing duo’s series about psychotherapist Frieda Klein was even better than the first. As I wrote on House With No Name: “I’m very squeamish and the opening scene, where a social worker discovers a rotting, naked corpse in a delapidated Deptford flat, stopped me in my tracks. But I was so desperate to discover who he was and why on earth the confused woman living there kept trying to serve him afternoon tea that even if I’d wanted to, I simply couldn’t stop reading.”

Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
Harriet Lane writes beautifully and her story of a lonely, 30-something newspaper sub who witnesses a woman’s death in a car crash was one of my favourite reads. When I chose it for one of my Friday book reviews I called it a subtle, beautifully observed and exquisitely written novel – the sort of book you read in one beguiling go.” And I can’t say better than that.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
It’s very special when you love a book and then get the chance to interview its author. And thanks to Headline’s Sam Eades, I interviewed Eowyn Ivey for House With No Name this year. Her first novel, the tale of a middle-aged couple who move to the wilds of Alaska to start a new life, is, as I said at the time, “a touching and truly exceptional portrayal of heartbreak and hope.”

Pure by Andrew Miller
One of my most memorable evenings of 2012 came way back in January when I was invited to the 2011 Costa Book Awards party. I’d been lucky enough to be on the judging panel for the first novel of the year category (a prize awarded to Christie Watson for the compelling Tiny Sunbirds Far Away) and as a result got an invitation to the glittering awards ceremony at Quaglino’s. The overall prize went to Andrew Miller for Pure, his novel set in a Paris cemetery four years before the start of the French Revolution. I later reviewed it for the Daily Express and wrote: “You can almost smell the cemetery’s stifling odour, see the noisy, turbulent streets and sense Baratte’s joy when he unexpectedly finds love in the midst of all the horror.”

2013 promises a host of eagerly anticipated novels, including Instructions for a Heatwave (February) by Maggie O’Farrell, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (March), the latest in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones saga and William Boyd’s new James Bond novel.

So on that happy note, thank you so much for reading House With No Name over the past year. I hope you have a cracking New Year’s Eve and a brilliant 2013.

Monday, 2 April 2012

William Boyd at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival

The massive marquee at Christ Church was full to bursting for William Boyd’s talk at the Oxford Literary Festival on Saturday night. The event was a sell-out and fans were so keen to hear him talk about his latest novel, Waiting for Sunrise, that an orderly queue formed outside – just in case there were any empty seats.

In a way, Boyd, with slicked back hair and wearing an immaculate dark suit and dazzling white shirt, was back on home turf. He spent three years as an English literature tutor at St Hilda’s in the 1980s and said his time there coincided with the start of his writing career. In between, he told us, he’d done just about every writing job going – “from restaurant criticism to Hollywood movies.”  He’s written 17 novels to date, along with a myriad of screenplays and short stories, and been awarded the CBE.

For me, the most enthralling part of Boyd’s hour-long talk came when he outlined the details of how he writes. Famed for his amazing settings – from 1920s Berlin to Africa to Vienna before the First World War, he admitted that he doesn’t necessarily go to these places before writing about them.

“It’s the power of your imagination that makes it work and makes it feel real,” he said. “I send my imagination as a proxy traveller, and recreate a city in my mind. I have never worried about visiting a place. I do it from my armchair. Sometimes the use of imagination is more true than the documentary evidence that your eyes and ears provide you with.”

He reckons you need three things for a novel – the ability to express yourself lucidly, a relish for observation (“I take enormous pleasure in the cinema of everyday life”) and a well-functioning imagination.

It was fascinating to hear that before Boyd writes a word of his novels, he’s often spent two years planning them and thinking them through in very precise detail.

“I have a particular working method,” he explained. “Iris Murdoch talked about periods of invention and periods of composition. I have a long period of invention and maybe two years will go by before I start writing. I maybe travel a bit, acquire a small library of books that will help me, fill notebooks of ideas and think about the characters.

“It’s only when I know precisely how the novel will end that I start on page one and the period of composition begins. I write with confidence because I have done all my thinking and have a very clear plan. I add flesh to the bones but the actual writing of the novel is done, not with ease exactly, but with peace of mind.”

Unlike many writers and thanks to his tried and tested method of writing, he never finds his characters suddenly doing something he hadn’t expected them to do either. “My characters are my creatures and do my bidding,” he said firmly.
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