Today Words, Pauses, Noises would like to introduce a new voice to the blog, Lesley Lawson Botez. In a stroke of luck, Lesley had a chance to talk to the Pulitzer Prize winning Richard Ford for Words, Pauses, Noises, which is a great honour indeed. Richard had some very candid answers to her questions about his views on success in the field of writing, and advice for new writers.
Interview with Pulitzer Prize winner, Richard Ford
For my first contribution to the Kingston Writers’ blog I was delighted to interview Richard Ford, American novelist and short story writer, winner of both the PEN/Faulkner award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I met up with him at Geneva’s elegant Société de Lecture, in the Old Town on a golden September afternoon. He was kicking off their conference season with a talk about his latest novel ‘Canada’.
I began by asking him about his view of essays such as Foucault’s, ‘What is an Author?’ and Barthes’, ‘The Death of the Author’.
‘Horses**t. Of course the author isn’t dead. I do not recommend that writers read Foucault and Lacan.’
What is the role of the author?
‘An author tells a story in which he has authorised everything, every single decision. Nothing is unaccounted for. He tries to authorise what the reader thinks as much as he can.’
What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
‘Live with someone you love who thinks what you are doing is a good idea. Read a lot.’
Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer?
Do you ever wish that you had an entirely uncreative job, like accountancy or working in a factory?
(He smiled) ‘No. I’ve wished for other creative jobs such as journalist, lawyer, Marine Corps officer. I even tried two of those.’
You were awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1995. Do you look back on that as the best moment in your life?
‘No, it was a good one but not the best. I don’t think in terms of what’s best, but what’s good.’
Are the names of the characters in your novels important?
‘Yes because I’m going to have to spend a lot of time with them. They need to look interesting on the page and in the readers’ ear.’
What about the titles of your novels?
‘They usually come first, or early on. I’m fearful that without the title the story doesn’t know what it’s about. I can change the title after the fact.’
How important are reviews to you?
‘I don’t read them; they are for readers not for writers. If they’re bad my feelings are hurt, if they’re good, they’re not good enough.’
What about failure?
‘There are two things that motivate me. The first is reading the second is fear of failure.’
What message would you give to writers who are beginning their writing journey?
‘Try to talk yourself out of it. You are probably going to fail, it may take a long time, you won’t have fun, you won’t have the satisfaction which comes from finding readers, people are going to say mean things even if they don’t think they are and you are probably going to drink too much. It’s rather like American football. When you throw the ball five things can happen and six of them are bad.
But if you can’t talk yourself out of it maybe you have the first inkling you might have a vocation. In that case you are stuck, for a while anyway.’
I thanked him and gave him a copy of Offshoots 12, the Geneva Writers’ 2013 anthology. He seemed genuinely pleased, found the page with my short story and asked me to sign it. For all you aspiring writers, know that when an American football is thrown sometimes it results in a touchdown and six points on the scoreboard.
All authors have different experiences and very different career histories, and not all authors warn students against studying writing theory. We might not all like James Joyce or any of the other greats, but we do have the choice and the freedom to know about their work. Some good advice from a journalism teacher is to read the conservative papers if you are more liberal so you can defend your place and know what they are up to.
As writers we can be just as pragmatic in our studies for the betterment of our craft. Words, Pauses, Noises is an outlet for, mainly, the creative side of things. At Kingston University there are classes dedicated to the multitude of literary theories and how to work with/through/without them. Even if you don’t believe your writing will benefit from reading Lacan or understanding Derrida, the experience will open your mind to other avenues of thought.
Come back next week for more work from the Kingston University Masters!