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Chibiabos83

Mark Lawson talks to...

If anyone didn't see Mark Lawson's interview with A.S. Byatt, broadcast in December, it was repeated on BBC4 last night and is available on iPlayer for the next week: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/epis...nj/Mark_Lawson_Talks_To_AS_Byatt/

It's the best interview I've seen in this occasional series, and I think I've watched most of them. What an intelligent writer (and person) Byatt is, and she and Lawson have a great rapport. I can't recommend it strongly enough. My thanks are owed to Mike Harvey, I think, for alerting me to it in the first place.
Evie

Thanks so much, will catch up with that in iplayer - still can't get BBC4, I lost contact a few weeks back, and still trying to get it back - disaster!  So I no longer look at what's on, as I don't want to know what I am missing - hate watching TV on the computer, but will make an exception for this.

Wish Mark Lawson could be given a regular book programme on BBC television...
Evie

Thanks again, Chibiabos - have just watched this while having my lunch, and it was fab.  I loved the bit about her writing while watching Andy Murray - watching the points, then when the point was over writing down what she had been thinking about - and Mark Lawson speculating on whether someone would dig out tapes of the match and analyse the influence of Andy Murray on Byatt's writing!  

And interesting about the reason for writing historical fiction - that it enables her to use words she loves but that are going out of fashion, and to write elaborate sentences - modern sentences are expected to be clean and clear and uncomplicated.

One to watch and listen to again, for me, as there was so much in it.  And it's made me want to go and read all my Byatt novels again!  I noted that she thinks George Eliot to be the greatest of all English novelists - perhaps that explains why Byatt is my favourite contemporary British writer, there is some subconscious link - and the influence of Eliot, albeit perhaps a vague one, might somehow be reaching me through her!

Anyway, great stuff.
Chibiabos83

I'd forgotten about Andy Murray! I intend to watch it again. I can't record TV programmes for posterity in the way I'd like - I have a digital recorder, but the programmes can't be extracted from the machine (or if they can then it will take someone more intelligent than I am to fathom out how) and so once it reaches the end of its natural life I will have to bid them farewell - but it occurs to me that I could record the soundtrack of this programme from iPlayer and save it as an audio file to be listened to again whenever. It's the words that are important, after all.
Mikeharvey

I have tried to transfer programmes saved on my recorder's hard-drive to disc, but end up wiping them off.  Don't know what I'm doing wrong.
Evie, sorry you can't get BBC4. I suppose you must have tried re-tuning your TV?  That usually works.  At the digital changeover I got programmes in Welsh for a while. It took three of four re-tunings before I managed to correct it.
Evie

I have tried retuning, Mike - I'm not sure what's gone wrong.  I used to get it without problems, it's been maybe a couple of months since I lost contact - and sometimes now when I rescan the channels, I lose it all together (usually it does get picked up, even though I can't actually get anything beyond a squeaky soundtrack that is trying to get through, and no pictures - that's on a good day - usually there is just a blank screen).  I seem to have lost everything on that 'mux' (I hate that word!), so the BBC radio stations are all scrambled too.  I thought it was because I attached a new DVD recorder that also has a hard drive - I read something about interference - but I disconnected that completely, and still no luck with BBC4.  It's possible someone else nearby has installed something that is affecting the signal - the BBC4 reception is known to be weak here.

It's a real nuisance, as it's such a good channel!  Things may improve when the analogue signal is switched off and the digital signal is stronger - but that's not for another 18 months here.  Frustrating - but I will keep trying to work out what's gone wrong!
Ann

Thank you, Chib, it was marvellous. She is a writer I have enjoyed so much that I kept wanting to push Mark Lawson out of the way and ask some questions myself. She is quite formidable but I love her openess to popular culture and her enjoyment of surprising things like Dallas. She mentioned Georgette Heyer and I know she admires Terry Pratchett which made the end of the interview, about Alzeimers, particularly poignant. The importance of thought in her life was fascinating (though not surprising) and inspired me to try to think difficult things through more often.
Evie

I saw her in Bristol a while back, in conversation with a neuroscientist, and they were talking about love.  She mentioned Georgette Heyer then, as someone whose books she clearly enjoyed.

I thought Mark Lawson was wonderful - he kept the focus on her writing, even when talking about her family and personal life, when a lesser interviewer would have been more interested in those things for their own sake.  And the fact that she taught him at Cambridge added some zest to the interview, I thought.  (Loved it when he revealed that she had given the students their exam results before they were officially supposed to get them - 'Hope they don't take your pension away now!')

I ought to read her book on Iris Murdoch.  I had an elderly friend in Bristol who had been writing a book about Murdoch, who was her favourite writer, but gave it up when Byatt's book was published, and I think never quite forgave AS Byatt for beating her to it!
Ann

Evie wrote:


I ought to read her book on Iris Murdoch.  I had an elderly friend in Bristol who had been writing a book about Murdoch, who was her favourite writer, but gave it up when Byatt's book was published, and I think never quite forgave AS Byatt for beating her to it!


That is really rather sad, Evie. All that work for nothing. I hope she enjoyed the process and appreciated Dame Antonia's work nevertheless.
The book I wanted him to ask about was The Game, which I remember us talking about a while ago now. I thought it was very revealing. I hadn't known about her son ( or if I had I'd forgotten) and it was stange how it was his death that almost caused her to write Possession. I must have a go at The Children's book although I had been concerned it might be one of hers that I found too complicated to enjoy as I did her one about the Tower of Babel. I shall look out for it at the library.
Evie

I don't think The Children's Book is complicated in that sense - there are a lot of characters, but as a narrative it's relatively straightforward.  And it's utterly wonderful!

Had you read the first two Frederica books before attempting Babel Tower?  That might make a difference - or it might not!  

I loved it when she was talking about Possession, and the book she had really wanted to write - where the reader had to work out the poems and what was happening from criticism of them, rather than having them there to read for ourselves.  She admitted it would have dropped like a bomb, while what she ended up writing won the Booker prize and has become her most popular novel!

Yes, it would have been good to hear her talk about The Game.  I was surprised at how much she *did* talk about Margaret Drabble, and it was interesting to hear her say that they had agreed not to read each other's novels after the first ones, as it was too difficult seeing what each did with the same material from their lives.  And also that this was perhaps why she had written a lot of historical fiction.
Chibiabos83

E/V, I'd love to claim both Byatt and Lawson for Cambridge, but although she was there as a student she taught him at the equally august establishment of University College London.

I really must read more Byatt. Possession is the only one I've read, and one of the Matisse Stories. Any recommendations for where to go next? I think The Children's Book sounds rather marvellous, but her whole back catalogue must be full of novels worth trying.
MikeAlx

There was a good Guardian Book Club podcast from July last year, with AS Byatt talking to John Mullan, and questions from the floor.

You can listen to it here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/a...ul/10/as-byatt-guardian-book-club

I listened to a recent one of the same format with Peter Carey, which has made me want to dig out Oscar & Lucinda, which I've never got round to reading.
Evie

The Children's Book is marvellous.  My personal favourite is The Virgin in the Garden, and its sequel Still Life is also very good (and was the first Byatt I read, given to me by a friend) - the whole quartet is good, but I think those two are the best.  She is an excellent short story writer too - I liked her Elementals collection, especially the one about the ice princess.  Her back catalogue is not huge - she admitted she writes slowly.

I think you might like Still Life, come to think of it.  I think you might like Daniel, one of the main characters - but I think I'd recommend reading them in order, and Virgin in the Garden is wonderful.

Sorry about the Cambridge error - I knew as I was writing it that it felt wrong - but thanks for putting me right!
Evie

Mike, I thought Oscar and Lucinda was fab - have not really taken to anything else I have read by Peter Carey, but thought that one was wonderful - increasingly so, it has the most amazing ending!
MikeAlx

Hi Evie, I've seen the film, so I do know the ending. I recall someone (possibly Caro) used an extract in a Literary Challenge a while back, and I liked the way it was written. My wife read it back in the early 90s, and I'm pretty sure it must be in a box somewhere around here.
Evie

Oh yes, I'd forgotten about the film - I liked the film too, though the book is a lot better (including the ending!).
Chibiabos83

The price of The Children's Book (and of Wolf Hall if it comes to that) is very low on a certain website at the moment. Perhaps I can justify a miniature splurge. But I've been doing that a lot lately...
Ann

Wolf Hall is stupendous. I'm still waiting for someone else here to say they have read it.
Yes, Evie, I have read the first two Fredrica books and found them fantastic.
I must give Babel Tower another try. Which was the one with the accidental death in it? I remember the shock when I read it.
Chib I very much liked Angels and Insects by A S Byatt which is really two novellas. The Insects one is particlularly powerful about a Victorian naturalist.
Green Jay

Ann wrote:
I have read the first two Fredrica books and found them fantastic.
I must give Babel Tower another try. Which was the one with the accidental death in it? I remember the shock when I read it.


I think that was Still Life. I found it one of the most memorable and troubling novels I've ever read. There just didn't seem to be any consolation in it. I think I've read Babel Tower but I don't recall much of it. Actually, I don't much like the Frederica character, which doesn't help.

I like Angels & Insects too. One half of it was filmed.
Evie

No, I don't like Frederica much either, though I did find her very interesting; Stephanie, her sister, is a much more sympathetic character.  I think Daniel, the melancholic priest, is a great creation.

I love the books because of the way they incorporate cultural and intellectual issues - the growth of television in the 60s, for example, and also the relationship between art and science (I forget whether it's Babel Tower or Whistling Woman in which one of the characters is researching the sex life of snails).
Green Jay

I have caught up with this programme now. Thanks so much for signposting it. I was really impressed with it, and that the makers did not worry about having nothing much to focus on but faces. I liked her references to learning how to plot from early episodes of The Bill, and she clearly loves a wide range of fiction. I too was surprised at how much personal stuff she allowed ML to encroach on, but it never got simply personal.  Her theories of how she synthesised experience into fiction was fascinating. I suppose I would have liked more on The Children's Book because I have just read it and it is still knocking round in my head.

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