Learning from the Masters: A Repost, and ROW80

I stumbled across this fascinating post of mine called Learning from the Masters from a decade ago.

I barely remember listening to these fascinating interviews!

For fun, I'm reposting the original post, with some comments and updates added in square brackets.

I might have mentioned this before, but the BBC have put up archival footage of interviews with authors, including Tolkien, Maugham, Wodehouse, Graves and a host of others.

The Tolkien one is full of university kids blabbing but in between there are some lovely snips of Tolkien talking about languages, allegory vs application and kicking the sponge out of his bath when he got an idea, as well as the theory that all stories are about death - here he quotes Simone de Beauvoir and says that these lines are the "keystring" of The Lord of the Rings:

"There is no such thing as a natural death: nothing that happens to a man is ever natural, since his presence calls the world into question. All men must die: but for every man his death is an accident and, even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation."

Maugham discusses his top ten novels:
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (the most "entertaining" author)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (the most "admirable" author)
Le Rouge et le Noir by Stendhal
Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky (the most "odious" author)
War and Peace by Tolstoy

Malcolm Muggeridge says he would have left out Moby Dick, which he found a bit of a bore; Maugham says that unless it's a very very short novel there's usually always some part that is a bore. Oddly enough, he says there's no connection between what people like and what they write; which is the opposite of C S Lewis' assertion. Then they discuss whether the novel is dead or not; this interview is from 1954! Plus ca change...

Of the above novels I've only read Wuthering Heights, and didn't enjoy it. I've read other works by Flaubert and Dickens, Austen and Dostoevsky. I haven't read La Recherche du Temps Perdu by Proust either, which Maugham says is the best novel of their time; he couldn't include Proust instead of Fielding due to copyright issues.

[Since then, I've read Moby Dick, and really enjoyed it. I think it's the sort of book that's better to read when you're a grown up. I'm tired of having not read War and Peace, although since this post, I have read Anna Karenina. I'm going to go find a free version I can put on my Kindle app. It seems odd that I haven't picked up a paperback copy in all these years.]

Wodehouse, meanwhile, talks about sex. Also, I hadn't known that he'd been interred by the Germans during the war. Also, he thinks there are fewer comedy authors because humour only comes through in times that are stable; how was the world of 1958 less stable than wartime, I wonder?

He compares writing to solving a crossword puzzle and says he doesn't believe in letting his authors take charge - he's a plotter!

Graves says it's his Scotch ancestry that keeps him steady, and talks about homosexuality at boys' boarding schools and how it's not an experience that has blighted him. He also says he wrote I, Claudius because they offered him 4000$ and he needed the money!?!?

[I think my surprise here was that someone could write such a good book, that required such a significant amount of research, all because he needed the money. On the other hand, if someone was offering me the equivalent 2020 sum to drop everything and research and write a novel, I could get cracking!]

And he compares writing a poem to a cloud that descends on you, and a problem that needs to be solved.

He and Muggeridge mention how the population will explode by 2036 and then laugh, saying "that won't affect us, then". Meanwhile the "chap" who owned all his copyrights was in prison in Switzerland! Finally, near the end of the interview, Graves says he writes poems because he "damn well must".

I could listen to these elderly British men speak all day... And they're all pipe or roll-your-own smokers! In that I like pipes, though I don't smoke one myself.

On the other hand, here's a female British poet, Sadie Smith, talking about her writing process and reading her painful poem Not Waving But Drowning. And here's Elif Safak, talking about storytelling.

The rest of the original post includes a story snip from Out of the Water, and the initial discovery of an image of my character Baha.

I haven't provided an ROW80 update in days!

I'm steadily plugging away at edits for Captive of the Sea. And I really need to design a cover for my short story anthology.

Also, this new blog design is not working very well with my use of drop caps. I need to find time to rejig the whole thing...

What treasures have you found on the BBC Archives site?


Hi Deniz - it is wonderful having the BBC archives there for us to delve into - and I'm sure at some stage I'll spend time listening ... time ahead. I admire your ability to absorb all these things ... all the best - cheers Hilary
Deniz Bevan said…
Thank you, Hilary :-)