Saturday, February 10, 2007

Agoraphobia and the Author

Should an author stick to only what they know, choosing to write about only places they have travelled to? Mark Lawson takes up the debate in the Guardian in the wake of Stef Penney's Costa Book of the Year win for The Tenderness of Wolves.

Armando Ianucci, chairman of the judges descibes the book as:
... not just an extraordinary first novel but also an extraordinary novel ... It was a very ambitious undertaking ...
The novel is set in Canada, but the author has never been there - she suffered from agoraphobia and found it incredibly difficult even to take a London Bus to the British Library, let alone jump on an aeroplane. Here she talks about how she managed to overcome the crippling condition and why she shuns publicity.

And you can read an extract from her novel here.

5 comments:

Burhan said...

reminds me of 3 years ago when elfriede jelinek did not go to Sweden to pick up her Nobel prize because "her anxiety disorders make it impossible for her even to go to the cinema or to board an airplane"

btw you mispelled agoraphobia as agoraphia in the title.

Sufian said...

I have to agree with her that writers should shut up about themselves (but she did the interview anyway...). Do a Maurice Blanchot, or a Salinger or a Pynchon.

Foucault suggested a year of publishing books without the name of the writers, but he suspects a lot of writers would publish in the year after...

Whitearrow said...

Well, i'm always found it presumptuous for an individual to tell another individual that there are limits to their thinking or their writing, etc.

'write what you know' they say, but some people visiting a country may take so little from it/see so little in it compared to someone else, and even compared to someone who's read about that country in a book somewhere. it's so darn abstract and subjective.

most topics written about in books of fiction are anchored on ambience and a sprinking of known facts; I don't think you'd need to visit the source of the topic to get a reasonably good feel for this kind of anchor. As one commentator to the mark lawson article 'shlick' put it, " James Joyce wrote about all of humanity. Is humanity a place you can go to? No of course not, but it didn't stop Joyce writing about it." right, some might say that matters like humanity or different centuries are far more subjective than a country, but are they really? personally, i would be so pleased to visit all the places i write about, but if i can't, it would be a pity to then stuff the old laptop back in its case.

it's so silly, really...i mean, as another commentator to the mark lawson article noted (sorry bout all the 'lifting' from those commentators, by the way), this point about writers writing what they know would then logically have to apply to the readers as well; only the readers who'd been to the relevant country/ies would be properly able to judge whether the comments made by a writer in a particular book were valid. I think it would be silly though to expect readers worldwide to visit all the countries written about in the books they read before they can validly comment on them based on other literature or research done in libraries or on the net etc. and even those from the relevant countries themselves may not wish to recognise certain truths in a foreigner's perspective, using the fact that that foreigner had not been to their land as a reason to stamp down on those truths.

having said that, i must say that having been in the place one writes about is always a potential tool in the
writer's arsenal of description and insights. similarly, so is proper research into the culture and history and current state of a country, in addition to and whether or not you've actually been there. i've been in a few countries for reasonable time-frames, and i definitely can't say i know them extremely well. certainly not in say, one or two years anyway. would visiting writers (ie. visiting for the sake of writing a particular book) to a country stay even that long? not many of them may have the funds and resources (or lack of commitments) to do so, I think.

makes me think of the brontes and the lack of exposure they had to the worlds and personalities they wrote about. and so many other writers too who if they had stuck to the dictum 'write what you know' would have left the world far less the brighter for it. Hail the imagination! hehe may have got a bit carried away at the end there...really enjoy your blog, sharon.

bibliobibuli said...

burhan - thanks for the spelling correction. never was my strong point!

sufian - i like writers to tlak about themselves ... and then i can blog them!

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