Monday, 28 September 2009

Up Close and Personal

A couple of weeks ago I went to the launch of Blown, a new magazine for the culturally intelligent (or so it says on the tin) in the National Museum in Cardiff. Ric Bower, the editor, had commissioned me to interview Sarah Waters and while I liked the idea of meeting her again (the last time was a while back when she was writing The Night Watch) I didn’t want to repeat the process I’d gone through before... re-read the previous novels and discuss her approach to the current one. So, Ric suggested I try writing it ‘Gonzo-style’ – an idea I found simultaneously terrifying and intriguing. After my usual period of procrastination, I decided to invite Sarah to the movies. In retrospect, I should have had the guts to go to Leicester Square and see The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2 or even something sensibly gripping like Burn After Reading, both of which were out at the time, but I lost my nerve. Instead we met up at the BFI and watched a motley selection of films made by the GPO. My plan had been to have an intelligent conversation about what we’d seen and then write up the interesting bits. Okay, not that Gonzo but hey – it was a Friday night out in London - that counts for something, doesn’t it?

Things didn’t go quite to plan... By the time I met Sarah late last September (we’d made the arrangements in June) the wheels were coming off bits of my life and instead of conducting a clever discussion about the merits of pre-war short films, we drank Campari and soda and then we drank a bit more. Luckily I remembered to switch the recorder on at some point or the whole evening would have turned into The Lost Weekend. Which brings me to my point. How much of yourself should you reveal when interviewing someone or writing a book about them? What is appropriate or, more importantly, vaguely interesting to the reader? I confess to being torn between irritation and curiosity when I watch Nick Broomfield’s documentaries, for instance, but am always desperate to know more about the writers I love. Reading Simon Gray’s The Smoking Diaries led me back to his plays with more enthusiasm than I had for them in the first place and, Susie Boyt’s My Judy Garland Life (purchased purely for the title) has given me a somewhat unhealthy obsession with all things Susie. Reading the article in Blown, nearly a year after I wrote it, felt a bit like hearing a snatch of a song that once meant something, almost visceral yet strangely remote. I haven’t watched The Wire for a year now, either.

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