The Paris Review interviews are probably the single greatest source of information on the craft of writing fiction. The latest subject is John Banville, author of two of my favourite novels: The Untouchable — inspired by the life of Anthony Blunt — and The Book of Evidence, the first in his funny and shocking Freddie Montgomery trilogy. Here are five clues to being John Banville:
1. Doing what you do well is death. Your duty is to keep trying to do things that you don’t do well, in the hope of learning.
2. The world is a dark place, and I find it endlessly funny.
3. Who knows what the distant past was like? About Kepler and Copernicus [two historical novels], people often say, You captured the period so well! I always want to ask, How do you know? You weren’t there either.
4. Research deadens fiction. Flaubert … said he’d read some preposterous number of books to prepare for the writing of Salammbo, and you can feel them dragging the novel down. It would have been much better if he’d made it all up.
5. Art is like sex: when you’re doing it, nothing else matters.