You cannot fake a writer: Kazuo Ishiguro on his experience at UEA

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UEA: Archive Image

UEA literature student, Melina Spanoudi, revisits an archived interview with Kazuo Ishiguro as part of the British Archive for Contemporary Writing’s Unboxed project.

Kazuo Ishiguro applied to the University of East Anglia in 1979, following a long year of social work in London. The MA in Creative Writing began in autumn, leaving the entire summer free for him to panic. He did so briefly, before beginning to write seriously for the first time. Ten years later, he won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Remains of the Day.

Returning to UEA during the Literary Festival of 1999, in an interview with award winning academic, novelist and biographer, Christopher Bigsby, Ishiguro is asked whether writing can be taught. Put plainly, his answer is no. Ishiguro believes that a writer cannot be crafted: rather, they are sculpted, refined in their involvement with the creative process of writing within an academic environment. Through sharing first drafts, exposing themselves and others to criticism, embarrassment and acclaim, the writer is given the opportunity to realize where they must stand when choosing to write.

However, the initial choice to write remains a personal matter. Any creation which is forced to extend itself beyond the boundaries of personal innovation is of no genuine value; you cannot fake a writer more than you can fake a text.

Ishiguro remarks: ‘You can certainly produce someone who can write more competently. But I would be rather more sceptical about the possibility of their producing anything of artistic worth.’

The process between writing and identifying as a writer is unique to each individual; However, what happens when you embark on a degree which expects you to be a writer before you have begun to write?

With little writing experience, sporadically noting descriptive fragments mirroring the semi-autobiographical style of Kerouac, Ishiguro’s journey to becoming a writer invites us to question whether he adopted the identity of ‘writer’ during the course of his degree in Creative Writing. Ishiguro explains that he discovered the space he required to explore his individual style of writing at the UEA. The learning atmosphere fostered through the flexible teaching methods adopted by his tutors, Malcom Bradbury and Angela Carter, enabled him to create, unaided and uninterrupted.

He describes his year at the UEA to Bigsby: ‘That was when I really started to write. So it was very fundamental. Before I went to East Anglia I had written very little indeed, certainly nothing I would count today as proper writing.’

Ishiguro dates the beginning of his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, in 1979/80, during the year he was studying at the UEA. He notes that most of his time studying Creative Writing was spent writing that novel. Although his first book resembled a form of a semi-autobiographical work, his later novels are informed by the awareness of his ability to create outside the context of his own life.

He explains: ‘Somewhere along the way I discovered that I could write better, more effectively, if I changed the setting and put the whole thing at a greater distance.’

Somewhere along the way, perhaps at UEA, Ishiguro became one of the greatest writers of our time. His journey at the university reminds students of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing that we are not taught how to become writers, but of the ways which enable us to discover our most humane and distinctive narrative voices.

Quotations reproduced with the kind permission of the author. All rights reserved.

To view the Literary Festival interview in full in our Archive Reading Room, contact the British Archive for Contemporary Writing archives@uea.ac.uk

To find out more about our 300+ collection of Literary Festival recordings, visit http://www.uea.ac.uk/bacw/litfest

 

Terry Pratchett on Magic and Realism

Terry PratchettbAn Unboxed Blog from Electra Nanou

There was once a tape, a single, innocuous video tape, living in the UEA Archives’ snug depths. The name, Terry Pratchett, sometimes caught a knowing eye, but one or two were not enough. If only it could see the light of day, other admirers might come its way. Squinting, stuttering, it finally emerged to puff out its chest and squeak:

Arthur Miller Centre International Literary Festival (UEA) interview with Terry Pratchett, 22 November 2000

To describe this interview between Professor Christopher Bigsby and Terry Pratchett, the author of the Discworld novels, as amusing would be an understatement. Having passed away two years ago, almost to the day, every reminder of this man’s sheer character is precious. Contained within the video recording is more than a discussion on Pratchett’s life and literary accomplishments or his favourite Discworld characters or even the difference between children’s fiction and fantasy.

‘Children’s books for the respect; fantasy books for the money.’

It is one more testament to his wit and flair, as well as a tutorial on how to politely dominate an interview. And how to introduce potentially controversial topics with a smile. Perhaps, sheer naughtiness factored into certain small omissions in the transcript, available in Writers in Conversation: Volume 5 by Christopher Bigsby.

Even the first Discworld novel was created on a rebellious whim. He felt that ‘a kind of antidote’ was warranted to the Tolkienesque fantasy prevalent of the time. Little did he know how much it was needed. The crowd that attended the Terry Pratchett Memorial in April 2016, made up of children and adults alike, was proof of how important a fresh and humorous look can be to something as simple as a literary genre.

‘Discworld is a way of looking at a story.’

Each of his books, from the children’s book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents to the Discworld novel The Truth, have something to say. In his own unique way, he touched on issues like morality, equality and feminism, his philosophical undercurrents drawing the attention of philosophy professors James M. Held and James South. They produced a book titled Philosophy and Terry Pratchett, a collection of essays including ‘Plato, the Witch, and the Cave: Granny Weatherwax and the Moral Problem of Paternalism’ and ‘The Importance of Being in the Right Trouser Leg of Time’ (The Guardian). When asked about the Thief of Time, the 24th Discworld novel, Pratchett said:

‘It is… about how people perceive time, how people perceive humanity. What is it that actually makes us human.’

If there is any lesson to be learned from Terry Pratchett, it is to not be afraid to be bold and different. Labels are trivial in a world that craves imagination, an escape from reality.

‘Magic realism … is fantasy with a collar and tie on.’

With 53 books to his name not including his numerous collaborations, he was, and still is, someone writers of any genre can look up to. He lived, learnt and struggled, while writing from his heart with minimal aspirations to fame and fortune. And yet they found him.

 

Sources

Recording: Arthur Miller Centre International Literary Festival (UEA) interview with Terry Pratchett, 22 November 2000. The University of East Anglia Literary Festival Archive www.uea.ac.uk/bacw/litfest – visit the Archive to view the recording in full.

Transcript: Bigsby, Christopher. ‘In Conversation with Terry Pratchett’. Writers in Conversation: Volume 5. Unthank books, 2013. Print.

Flood, Alison. ‘Terry Pratchett’. The Guardian. 28 Nov. 2014. Web. Oct. 2016