Despite feeling a bit of a heathen (I’m not sure photographs were strictly allowed!) I did mange to grab a shot of Sebastian himself, although it is not amazing I’m afraid. I had an absolutely wonderful time at the Sebastian Faulks event in Cambridge last night. I think this will be a series of posts, rather than the one I originally intended, as there were so many fascinating ideas discussed.
Faulks had been invited to talk about his new book A Possible Life, and was interviewed by Rowan Pelling in front of a large crowd packed into the Cambridge Concert Hall. He was a consummate interviewee – eloquent and charming – and I can’t wait to read A Possible Life now as it sounded so interesting!
Faulks explained that, in theory, he starts with an idea or a theme for each of his books (although not for On Green Dolphin Street, which made that a difficult book for him to write). The main theme of A Possible Life is ‘selfhood – are we individuals in any meaningful way?’ He explained that ‘self’ is a very unstable entity and finds in fascinating that as an adult, you share almost no cells with the child that you were. When quizzed on this in more detail he explained that before he has come to the event, he had sat in The Eagle Pub on Benet Street, just has he has done as a student in the 70s and found it ‘invigorating’ to feel he had nothing in common with the 19-year-old he was when he last sat there, in the same chair. He thinks that the notion that people do not change is rubbish, although they may have a ‘default’ mode, which becomes more pronounced as they age.
Over the years, I have read that some authors start with a ‘big idea’ like Sebastian, but others prefer to start with characters or a plot. Faulks was very clear that his characters were servants of the plot, which in turn was a servant of the theme. He also explained that he writes, and has always written, exactly what he wanted to and does not compromise – ‘a 650 page novel about the early years of psychiatry is not everyone’s cup of tea!’ he said when talking about Human Traces, his self-confessed favourite novel. However, he is also aware of his reader as he writes. He described liking to push the reader as much as possible without alienating them ‘ ‘I like to think of a reader thinking “I’m glad I hung on there when it got tough as the rewards were more than worth it!”‘ The effort to go to Cambridge on a very blustery September evening was certainly worth it for me – I left, clutching my signed book, feeling that it was an evening very well spent.
p.s. To Melanie, I’m not quite sure how I managed it but I’ve written down your email address incorrectly so please get in touch if you are reading this so I can send you the photographs!