I know several writers who are now my friends, and they are wonderful people let me assure you. With some people you connect and become friends, with others you don't. When we communicate we communicate as friends, like normal people. Don't you want to know the person behind the book you enjoyed so much, someone asked? No, not really. Orhan Pamuk says that he prefers to read books by dead writers 'so there is no little cloud of jealousy to cloud my admiration'. In my case, I would say 'so there is no little cloud of reality to mitigate my enjoyment' of the writing. Good example, VS Naipaul: I know many who simply can't sit back and enjoy his prose because of all the other things (they think) they know about him. For me it is the song not the singer, all the time. I used to hugely admire Led Zeppelin when in college. There was a reunion concert recently and I would have liked to attend for it would have been interesting to hear what they sound like now after all these years. Would I also have liked to meet one of them personally after the show, if it was at all possible? Not really. I have organised two Literary Festivals for Malaysians to meet the writers. I got a huge buzz, both times, out of seeing people enjoying the events, mixing and mingling with the authors. But, in both cases, I was not particularly interested in meeting any of them besides doing the obligatory handshake routine. Does that make sense?)Does it indeed make sense?
Me? I fall in love with authors all the time, when their words have moved and changed the way I see the world in some way.
I used to be so starstruck that at the first literary conference I ever attended, I got completely tongue-tied when talking to these folks who actually had *gasp* written novels. Isn't creativity the next thing to ... godlikeness?
Organising the first KL literary festival and dealing with all the practicalities and personalities cured me a little ... and also made me realise that the love you feel for the author of the book sometimes translates into real life as well. How could I not love Oscar Hijuelos playing piano for me (oh yeah, and one or two others) at Carcosa or Paul Bailey letting me into the lives of his characters in the Renaissance coffee shop? These were moments of special magic.
I've really relished the opportunities I've had to interview authors for Starmag. You can't, of course, afford to be overawed - there's a job to be done, information to be obtained, soundbites to be recorded. But in nearly all cases, those interviews have morphed into a really enjoyable conversation with someone who loves books and with whom I feel I have a lot of shared ground.
I still think I'd have had to be scraped of the ground if I had been in Silverfish the day that Peter Carey walked in. Vikram Seth is going to be at the Ubud festival this year, and it's going to take a lot of effort not to melt into a little puddle of admiration in the presence of someone who has given me so much I have loved.
Literature festivals of course, give you the opportunity to fall in love with authors before you read their books. I'm hook-line-and-sinker gone for Richard Flanagan and Patrick Gale, in that case, even before I pick up their books.
And the last Ubud festival gave me one of my most-magical meet-the-author moments ... wandering around Antonio Blanco's museum late at night with Tan Twan Eng and Kiran Desai. Yes, was on the far shores of groupiedom then and pinching myself. (Don't you just love the picture, on the right? I dwarf poor Kiran.)
Authors are just ordinary blokes, of course, of course. There's really nothing rarefied about them. (I was talking about this to Rob last night, and he directed me to this post on Susan Hill's blog about a woman who met J.K. Rowling and was disappointed at her ordinariness.)
But sometimes I have this strange and unsettling thought as I talk to them - that inside their heads (tardis-like) are these parallel universes and the characters I've loved going about their daily lives.
This is a long-winded way of returning to the question Raman asks - if you really love a book, do you want to meet the author?
My answer in every case, is that I do.