I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the nature of fiction and its relationship to autobiography again, of late — and whilst looking around for the thoughts of other writers on this subject, stumbled across this interview with John Irving. Doesn’t really address the points that primarily interest me at the moment, but interesting nevertheless. Especially fascinated by his thoughts on recurrent themes and the things that haunt him as a writer.
Two sample chapters of If I Never can be read here.
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© 2010 Gary William Murning (except for video.)
The older I get, the more problems I have with my one-time writing hero, John Irving — especially with the tendency towards excess in his writing. Nonetheless, he has an impressive ability and I still value what he has to say on the subject.
Take a look:
The above question is one I’ve been thinking about quite a lot just recently. The chapter outlines for Children of the Revolution are now complete (and, boy, am I happy with them!) and whilst there are immense similarities to my own experiences up to the age of about nineteen, and even though my protagonist possesses many Gary-like traits and attitudes, it’s still hard for me to comfortably view it as being about “me”. Even though, to a very large extent, it is.
The author John Irving once made an insightful comment. I’m quoting from memory, here, but it went something along the lines of how he was wary of/uncomfortable with the autobiographical form because he could “always remember a better version”. He was referring to that very human (and possibly very necessary) trait we have to revise our memories — to tweak them in our favour, to make ourselves the heroes of our own lives, or merely to present a more amusing story down the pub. I am very conscious of wanting to avoid this with Children of the Revolution. If Carl, my protagonist, is to be even a bit like me, I don’t want him morphing into some cape-wearing superhero — WheelchairMan, Righter of Educational Wrongs and All-round Good Egg.
To avoid this, I’m trying not to think of it in “semi-autobiographical” terms. I’m drawing on my past heavily (the school-based episodes have about a ninety percent factual base), but the emphasis in the phrase “semi-autobiographical novel” is solidly on the word “novel”. It has to be, if I’m to get the job done successfully. Carl is just another character in just another of my novels. A boy/man like any other — with faults and virtues alike. He’s not me, because if he were I might be tempted on some level to gloss over my own failings (not that there are that many, as I’m sure you know… I’ve told you often enough ;-)) and present an unbalanced view that would do no one any favours.
I might admit to the unmistakable likeness and the genetic match once the novel is written, but for now he’s someone I’ve just met — a stranger I’m learning to know and love.
The things a writer has to do!