Thursday, March 17, 2005

You should meet A.S Byatt. I did.

A.S. Byatt, the author of such notable works of Victorian-themed fiction as Angels and Insects and Posession, visited my campus earlier this week for an intimate Q&A with English students. About 20 people were present and everyone was given a chance to ask questions. I didn't know that she was going to be on campus until the day of - I knew she was in town to give a lecture later in the evening, but I had no idea she would be here beforehand - so I had no prepared questions, no notebook paper, no camera, no book for her to sign, no nothing except me and a pen. One of my professors cams prepared with a few print-outs of questions for us to ask, so I used the tinest handwriting possible to fill the back of the print-out with every word of Byatt's that I could. In short, she is fascinating - intelligent, considerate, worldly, and knowledgable on topics ranging from the entire vicorian period to film production to the writing process to parenthood. Below are some of the notes I managed to take:

- The poet in Posession is based slightly on Christina Rosetti if she wasn't so Christian, Emily Dickenson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (more in letters, less in poetry).

- Advice to young writers - don't write bad sentences because it takes you ages to correct. Work in notebooks, don't put it down until you are sure what you want. Work it out in your head. Writing it down tends to make it feel permanent.

- Notebooks - outlines, "commonplace book," exciting quotations, "basic paragraph of describing the thing." Structural things, history of time/place/exact dates.

- Favorite book - The Road to Xanadu by John Livingstone Lowes. Always follow up a footnote; reads very fast... Research a person or event rather than a time period.

- Morpho Eugenia - what is compelling about the Victorian Period? Taught Victorian Lit. and was most interested in how Darwin affected thought - the moral prediciment of Darwin vs. church... more so now. Stereotypes of a period; interested in High Victorians (heroic, true morality, courageous - belief that anyone could know anything), but working on a book about Low Victorians - they are more comical.

- Henry James - Bridging Victorian and Modern periods. Favorite 3 novelists (other than George Eliot, who is her absolute favorite because of Middlemarch) - James, Proust, Thomas Mann. Likes attention to the inner life, but doesn't do much with that in her own writing because Wolff and Joyce have done it already. She feels self-conscious writing an inner monologue.

- Angels and Insects - "almost entirely successful" - must be over-the-top. Involved in casting, especially Kristen Scott Thomas. Still great friends with director, Philip Haas - they talk about 3 times a week regarding lots of topics including future movie projects. Loved the costumes. Possibility of making second story in Angels and Insects into a movie.

- Posession - Cut too much to make it more accessible to American audiences. Dumbed it down. Cut scenes that were really good. Gwenyth Paltrow said the film "didn't come together" - too many faces. "The moie didn't come together, but the book did." Huge mistake in film - the photo in the tomb is of an old woman, but in the book it is of a beautiful young woman.

- Writing progression - writing more supernatural tales as she ages. Read supernatural tales as a child; wants to write about "birtha nd death and tragedy and things happening to people."

- American editors assume "The American Reader" is stupid. British male novelists think American male movelists are more energetic and grand.

- Is not good at collaboration which is why she would not be good at writing screenplays. "My work is my work."

- Once told a man in a bar about an idea she had for a movie about Cooleridge's life. The man "turned out to be a very bad film director who made a very bad film based on Cooleridge" ruining it for her.