Month: September 2009

Margaret Atwood interview

Atwood Year of the Flood cover

“It’s increasingly evident that narration is built in to the human floor-plan as it were. Little kids take to story-telling very, very early… The fact is that we will tell stories; it’s part of being human.

“What effects those stories may have are often quite unforeseen by the people telling them, but if they are listened to, if they have an audience, they are doing something…

“This kind of novel is like a detour sign on a road: if you don’t want to fall into the big hole that looms ahead, you should probably turn right here. Or left.” (laughs)

I interviewed Margaret Atwood about her new novel The Year of the Flood when she visited Bristol earlier this month as part of her international book tour, which has been dubbed the greenest book tour ever – Atwood travelled to the UK by ship rather than plane, forswore meat and insisted that all coffee served came from organic, Fairtrade, shade-grown plantations.

Margaret Atwood on stage at St George's Bristol

Her event at the Bristol Festival of Ideas was unusual in other ways too – Atwood was joined on stage by a choir and group of actors to perform dramatized readings from the book and the specially composed hymns of the God’s Gardeners sect.

Click here to find out why writing dystopian fiction is still an optimistic act, why Montecristo cigars are so called, and why a book tour is like hang-gliding… [12 minutes]

Old dog. New tricks

Philosopher Julian Baggini has taken to film-making to promote his latest book entitled Should You Judge This Book by its Cover? In the book, he subjects one hundred proverbs and other examples of homespun wisdom to philosophical scrutiny. And in the film – well, click below and see for yourself.

You can also listen to an audio interview about the book which I recorded with Julian last week for Blackwell Online by clicking here.

30. Hun’s eye view

Kelly: Attila the Hun“The Huns are a blank canvas. That’s what makes them so interesting. We know only one word of Hunnic, the word strava, the Hunnic word for funeral. We have no Hunnic poetry, we have no Hunnic literature.”

My guest on this edition of Podularity is Cambridge classicist, Christopher Kelly. His book on Attila the Hun and the part he played in the downfall of the Roman empire has just come out in paperback.

In the interview, we talk about the difficulty of writing about someone whose civilization is only preserved in the annals of his enemies, in which the Huns were portrayed as “the scourge of God”.

Kelly sets that against the opinion of one Roman commentator who came to know Attila and was impressed by the civilization of his court and the Hun leader’s command of Latin.

And we tackle the key question – to what extent did the Huns bring about the fall of the Roman empire?

The end result may not be a “Hun’s eye view” – that may well be impossible to recapture – but it does at least demonstrate that Rome was not the only vantage point from which to view the world. As Kelly says in the interview, the Roman empire wrought far more destruction on the continent of Europe than the Huns ever did…