The truth is the combination of dazzling on the page and dazzling in person is rare.
So my intrepid traveling companion was not enthusiastic about attending the Kazuo Ishiguro event hosted by Kepler’s Thursday night. He’s been perhaps to one too many readings where an author goes on overlong in monotone. It’s always a risk. Writers are writers, not performers. Most of us, had we know we would have at some point to toss off our pajamas and our imaginary friends in our imaginary worlds for real clothes and stages and microphones, would have chosen obscurity.
But the Kazuo Ishiguro event Thursday night was that kind of rare evening. If you ever get a chance to hear “Ish” speak, go! Let’s just say no one in the substantial audience coughed for the entire 90+ minute event. No one left early. Even my intrepid companion who was not enthusiastic was rapt.
It would be impossible to sum up all the wisdom and wonder of the evening, so I’m going to settle for sharing a few of the fascinating bits I learned about Ishiguro’s writing. My words, not his, and my apologies in advance for failing to do him justice:
1. He doesn’t worry about character; he thinks about relationships. Does a relationship change in a surprising and convincing way? He builds his stories around “fascinating and hopefully moving relationships,” and says, “Focus on the relationship and the characters will take care of themselves.”
2. He can only write in 1st person when he knows what the character is holding back.
3. He likes to “crash” a first draft. He basically works really intensely, 6 days a week with an hour for lunch and two for dinner, until he gets the “first draft”–for Remains of the Day this was a four week process that resulted in something that, if I understand him right, wouldn’t have looked like a first draft to anyone else, but had all the pieces he needed.
5. He figures out the story he wants to tell, and then “where to put it down.” For example, he considered setting Never Let Me Go in … I think he said in a world of nuclear fallout. It took him some time–as in years–to decide on a more sci-fi-ish world, and he credited David Mitchell and “some of the younger writers” who aren’t hemmed in by formal ideas of what constitutes literary fiction for opening up this possibility to him.
6. He says … gosh, I wish I’d written this one down. Something like that he’s wary of readers and reviewers who are the most insightful, because they call out things he is doing subconsciously, and once it’s called out it’s not subconscious anymore.
I wish I could explain that better, but I’ve always thought that the best writing is what bubbles up from your subconscious. It never occurred to me that it’s best kept that way, but when he said it, I though, “yes, of course.”
Ishiguro never talked in terms of writing advice. He just chatted with Tom Barbash about about what and how he wrote. And he was utterly unassuming and charming. Really, this was … glorious, which sounds corny, but there you are. I felt I learned more about writing–and thought more about my own writing–in that 90+ minutes than I have in a long while.
A huge thank you to Kepler’s Books for hosting it, and to Praveen Madan for including us. Events like this are one of the many reasons I support independent booksellers. A few I’ve written about (including Kepler’s) are listed in the sidebar here. More on that to come as in the four weeks before Independent Bookstore Day, which is May 2. – Meg