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Comment from the book world in September 2020

September 2020

‘Is the screenwriter... really an artist?'

28 September 2020

‘Is the screenwriter, set the task of adapting a novel, whether a famous or forgotten or recently published novel, really an artist? Is there an "art" to adaptation? As someone who has done a fair amount of adapting I have to say I suspect not - the artist is the one who has created the work you're transforming. Adaptation is a craft, rather than an art, I believe. But craftsmen and craftswomen are not to be sniffed at.

We are artisans de luxe, if you like, operating in a ruthless industrial medium that not only imposes stringent artistic constraints, but also stringent constraints of budget and ideology and temperament - you often have to work with very difficult, stupid and demanding people. The fact that, at the end of the day, a long novel has been rethought and reconceived as a good film (if you're very lucky) is no mean achievement. We toil in an unforgiving vineyard, but sometimes the wine we manage to make can be heady.'

William Boyd, author of many screenplays and 16 novels, including Trio, An Ice-Cream War, A Good Man in Africa and Any Human Heart, in the Sunday Times Culture

'You only find out what you ought to have known by pretending to know at least some of it already'.

21 September 2020

'Every article and review and book that I have ever published has constituted an appeal to the person or persons to whom I should have talked before I dared to write it. I never launch any little essay without the hope - and the fear, because the encounter may also be embarrassing - that I shall draw a letter that begins, 'Dear Mr. Hitchens, it seems that you are unaware that...' It is in this sense that authorship is collaborative with 'the reader.' And there's no help for it: you only find out what you ought to have known by pretending to know at least some of it already.

It doesn't matter how obscure or arcane or esoteric your place of publication may be: some sweet law ensures that the person who should be scrutinizing your work eventually does do so.'


The late Christopher Hitchens, author of Hitch 22: A Memoir and 18 other books.


Translating Elena Ferrante

14 September 2020

'The first draft is the words as they are, more or less in the order they appear. It is pretty straightforward. But most of the time there is then some shaping of that language into an English that reads like English but still contains some suggestion of the Italian. In my first draft I look at the Italian; in the second I am still working with the Italian and trying to solve problems I couldn't solve first time around. Then, eventually, I try to read just the English, without the Italian, but I never can, because there's always something I need to go back to check. Sometimes I find I've gone too far away from the Italian; sometimes I find I need to go further away...

Definitely more attention is being paid to translators and they're getting more credit, but there's a long way to go. Now this is something I don't really care about, but it's often a battle to have your name on the cover of a book.'

Ann Goldstein, who has worked with Elena Ferrante for 16 years and translated the work of Primo Levi, Jhumpa Lahiri and many other great Italian writers, and is also head copy editor at the New Yorker, in the Observer


Should my books stay white for the rest of my life?

7 September 2020

‘The majority of my books are set in north London, and it began to seem like an omission or a lie that when I open my door I'm in a multiracial neighbourhood, yet I haven't written about that. Should my books stay white for the rest of my life? I don't think so. That's all I can say, I wanted the book to represent my city...

You write yourself out the further you go. The women thing started like that. I came to believe that women had more problems than white me, and white men's problems are mostly internal. That's certainly the case with High Fidelity and About a Boy. I tried to do the best I could with them, but there is something inert about that...

I'm thankful I'm not 30 years younger and having to make my way in the world...

My 17-year-old is supersmart and he's probably read about four books. But does it matter? Does it matter if you watch five seasons of The Wire as opposed to reading a so-so Booker novel? What are you not getting?...

I know why I read - because of the time I was brought up in. I was clinging to a lifeline and was never bored when I was reading. But my kids are never bored. Good luck to them.'

Nick Hornby, author of 21 books, including 7 novels, amongst them Just Like You, published next week, About a Boy, Fever Pitch and High Fidelity in the Sunday Times' Culture.