Julia O’Faolain was promoting her novel Adam Gould at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival. Her novel No Country for Young Men was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 1980. Entirely appropriate, therefore, that she was paired with Adam Foulds, at the time of the event longlisted (now shortlisted) for this year’s Booker prize. Here’s how it went from Julia’s point-of-view.
LS: How did you become part of the 2009 Programme?
JO’F: My publisher, Telegram Books, forwarded the invitation from Edinburgh International Festival which I happily accepted.
LS: If you’re part of a double-bill, what do you think of the book you’re paired with?
JO’F: The connection is indeed obvious. Each of our books portrays an asylum in which a writer is confined, so I was intrigued by the emerging parallels. Some of these are quite small perceptions such as the fact (?) that the mad tend not to have a sense of humour. See page 34 of The Quickening Maze where Dr Allen says “Madness has no sense of humour. Similarly,Adam, in my Adam Gould (page 33), reflects that “in the asylum jokes rarely worked. There was no norm there to bounce them off.” Some of the inmates’ delusions are similar too. The big difference between the two books is that all Foulds’ characters, if I understood him correctly, were historical figures, whereas many of mine are fictional, albeit composite or partly based on real people.
Like everyone else, I admire Foulds’ prose, his vivid imagery and his clever evoking of a larger outside world which, like mine, is full of characters who try to grasp more than they can hold and might well end up in an asylum themselves. His ability to see nature with Clare’s eye is impressive.
LS: How did you prepare for the EIBF event? Have you obsessed about your ticket sales?
JO’F: I reminded myself of the political background and decided which passage to read. There’s no point worrying about ticket sales when you’re not in your own city.
LS: It’s the morning of your event – what happened beforehand? Are there any rituals to be followed before you step on the stage?
JO’F: No rituals. I had never travelled before from Heathrow Terminal 5, and the lack of information as to how to get there by tube took all my attention. Signals kept flashing up “Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 4” with no mention of 5 at all. Only when we reached Hounslow West did all become clear.
LS: How did the event go?
JO’F: I thought it went all right. The audience was lively which is the main thing.
LS: How did you choose which extract to read?
JO’F: There were very few ten-minute bits which could be detached without tedious footnoting.
LS: Which was the best question at the event and why?
JO’F: The question about historical novels was good, but by then we were too close to running out of time for a discussion. One thing which makes such novels relevant is the cyclic nature of some peoples’ history. Ireland ‘s is one example of this; another is the eruption of religious struggles after long periods of calm.
LS: Book-signing – love it or hate it?
JO’F: On the whole, I like seeing people’s faces and the chance for an exchange — oh and the unexpectedness of who may turn up.
LS: What did you do after the book-signing?
JO’F: I had a glass of white wine with another Telegram writer.
LS: How do you feel about book festivals in general? The EIBF in particular?
JO’F: It’s a perk, stimulating, convivial and a break in the isolation of the writer’s life. The EIBF is enormous, efficient and impressive. I’m full of admiration.The most enjoyable festivals, though, are those where you get to know the other people attending. Sitting beside them at dinner achieves this. The Toronto Festival, which I attended a long time ago, was particularly good in this regard — but then we all stayed for days. The formula was different.
LS: Did you attend any other book festival events?
JO’F: I attended the Dublin Writers’ Festival in June and will attend a small one at the Irish Center in Paris in early October.
LS: Thanks, Julia. Good luck with your novel, Adam Gould, which I read and enjoyed prior to the event and will review once the blog catches up with itself!