When you write fiction, what comes first – the style or the story?
There's really no separation there. I won't start writing until I have the first sentence and that already has both style and story. Each is driven by the other. Usually, by the end of the first page everything is mapped out. It's only an accident of language that encourages us to separate style and story into distinct ideas.
Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot in French, would you be tempted to write a piece of literature in Italian first?
I have written things in Italian first, but only for fun. One book written in Italian was accepted for publication but I decided to withdraw it for all sorts of reasons. I felt it was too naïve. That it was more about me coming to grips with Italian and having fun with it than anything else. Beckett, on the other hand, had a very particular project, to resist and reveal the extent to which language determines what you write, to show up everything that is compulsive and not individual about the way we think. He felt he could do that best escaping into French and then translating back. This isn't a project of mine. And then it has to be said that his re-writes of his French in English, particularly in the trilogy, are rather better, certainly richer, than the French originals, precisely because he accepts so many invitations from idiomatic Irish.
You’ve written less than flatteringly about current fashions in English literature, who are the current writers (if any) who you enjoy reading?
I will sound unpleasant if I say there's no one I'm actually looking forward to reading. But the truth is that my reading just isn't aimed in that direction these days. Partly because of the sort of essays I'm working on, I'm reading books from other countries, other centuries, so I'm not particularly thinking about English writers at the moment. Which isn't to say there aren't many good writers out there. No, wait! Coetzee is someone I look forward to reading. And in America, Nicholson Baker. And back in England Geoff Dyer. His work is always intriguing.
In an interview with 3am magazine, you mentioned the link between left wing politics and Magic realism. Does politics inform your fiction at all?
I think like many other writers one tends to satirize the rhetoric and piety of certain political positions, but I'm never thinking when I start a book that I want to make an overt political statement. I'm not planning to change the world. I suppose what's most irritating about how politics and the media have merged these days is the way certain debates that hardly seem terribly important are carried on with the greatest intensity and exposure (one thinks of the eternal Italian debate on what are r
eally some fairly minor questions about pension systems) while what seem to be the key questions – how to rearrange our society to deal with global warming, and with an emerging third world – are largely ignored.
You have your own website, and in Season with Verona you mention the fan sites and chat rooms. How interested are you in the internet and technology in general? Has the advent of the internet changed the way you work/write?
The website just seemed to me a sensible way of providing people with info uncontaminated by the kind of slants journalists inevitably give to reviews and, in some cases, interviews. While writing the football book I was indeed fascinated by the way the community of the stadium, and the extent to which it is a zona franca, a place where any opinion, however unacceptable, can be expressed, is perpetuated in the chat rooms on the net. In general, the net is wonderful for providing a forum that is not controlled by media money. On the other hand, I wouldn't say that it has changed my writing in any way.But what has changed the way one writes is the facility that the computer brings to certain kinds of revision. The style of a book like Destiny was certainly made easier by the computer. Having written a dozen pages by hand I'd then put them up on the screen and spend a long time reflecting on what effects could be achieved by introducing material between sentences, moving, removing or adding a sentence, giving a sense of other thought patterns breaking in to the original draft. Obviously I could have done this on paper, but the ease the computer brings makes one more willing to actually write things out and see what they feel like. On a piece of paper covered with corrections, it's difficult to get a sense of how the revisions will or won't work. Joyce, remember, once told Frank Budgen that he'd spent a whole day looking for the right word order in a sentence of no more than a dozen words. God knows what further games he might have played if he'd had the whole text of Ulysses on screen.