And here is the part of my interview with Kazuo Ishiguro in which I talk to him about his short story collection, Nocturnes. This was recorded first (hence it’s part 1) but six years on, my feeling is that Part 2 is in fact the best place to start as he sets his earlier books in context.
Half a dozen years ago, I was delighted to be asked by Faber & Faber to interview Kazuo Ishiguro for a special two-part podcast to mark the publication of his first collection of short stories, Nocturnes. In the first part, we focused on the new book, and in the second I asked him about his background, previous novels, and the effects of early success (and intriguingly, he makes what I think must have been one of his first public indication that he was working on an idea which would become the 2015 novel, The Buried GiantIshiguro The Buried Giant). To listen to the podcasts, click on the links below. To whet your appetite, here are a couple of extracts from our conversation.
Kazuo Ishiguro: Early on, when I was six or seven, I very much thought of Japan as my home and I very much thought we were about to return at any moment. And I was much more in touch with Japanese culture then. I was being sent comics and books so there was an attempt to keep up the Japanese side of me…
But I think as the years went on, in that way that children do, I stopped thinking really about Japan in any conscious way. Of course when you’re eight or nine, what’s going to happen in three months’ time is just far too distant to worry about, let alone what’s going to happen at the end of the year. So I still intellectually knew that we were likely to return to Japan at any point… But I know that another part of me never believed that would happen. Perhaps that was foolish, but I was quite confident I was going to remain in Britain.
It was really when I was fifteen when that big decision was made. That was the first time it occurred to me that it was for real, that there was a possibility that my parents could go back and leave me in England… And then the decision was made – my father turned down a university position. And that was a kind of a watershed point in my life, I think, when I thought, ah yes well, I am here now but Japan actually remained an important part of my life in my head, but it ceased to be somewhere I was really going to go.
And so I was left with this strange alternative home that I didn’t know what to do with, because I wasn’t going to go back there. It was fading in my head, in memory. I was old enough to realise it was literally fading in the sense that that kind of Japan was disappearing. Japan changed enormously between 1960, when the family left, and the beginning of the 70s.
So in a sense although I started to think of myself very much as British, I think something was born in me that became much more concerned about Japan – how do I place Japan in my head, what does it mean to me? And if it’s going to just fade in my mind, shouldn’t I do something to preserve it? And in fact aren’t there many things that are very precious for me in that little world of memories and speculation, that I used to call Japan? Isn’t there something very precious about that? And I shouldn’t just let it disappear with the years, so I’ll just turn into some sort of Englishman.
Now looking back, I think it was the culmination of that process that started me writing, because when I started to write fiction I did so quite suddenly. I didn’t really have any great ambitions to be a writer before that, and in my early 20s, I found myself writing stories that very much recreated that Japan that I always thought about, and so I began by writing Japanese stories and then Japanese novels, set very much in my Japan. And I think that was very much some sort of answer to this question, what do I with this precious, but non-existent and rapidly fading Japan? Well, the answer ended up, preserve it in a novel, put it in a novel…
I heard an interesting interview with Robert Ferguson on the New York Times Books podcast at the weekend in which he talked about his new book on Scandinavia (“an engaging, layered look into a culture,” New York Times). It reminded me that I did an interview with Robert a few years ago when his new history of the Vikings, The Hammer and the Cross, came out. I listened again to that interview this morning on the dog walk and thought I’d repost it here.
In the interview, Robert told me:
“One of the most important reasons for the outbreak of the age [of Viking raids and conquests] was acts of cultural self-defence. Almost – it is anachronistic – but almost terrorism. They couldn’t defeat the might of the [Christianizing] Frankish empire on the battlefield, so they resorted, as many a small culture will do when it’s under cultural threat, to terrorist-like activities, violent manifestations on frankly soft targets, monasteries and so on.
“And of course there was money to be had and things to be stolen as well, but there was no need to burn these places down and kill the unarmed monks, so I think that you have to look for some explanation as to why there was an almost psychopathic edge of hatred to this. It wasn’t simple robbery…”
I see that Philip Hoare is publishing the third volume of his trilogy about the sea next week. RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR comes nine years after his award-winning book on the culture and history of whales, Leviathan, so I though I would re-present the interview I did with Philip about that book back then in a coffee shop in Bath (to listen click on the player above or download here)… As the publisher’s blurb puts it:
The story of a man’s obsession with whales, which takes him on a personal, historical and biographical journey – from his childhood to his fascination with Moby-Dick and his excursions whale-watching.
All his life, Philip Hoare has been obsessed by whales, from the gigantic skeletons in London’s Natural History Museum to adult encounters with the wild animals themselves. Whales have a mythical quality – they seem to elide with dark fantasies of sea-serpents and antediluvian monsters that swim in our collective unconscious.
In ‘Leviathan’, Philip Hoare seeks to locate and identify this obsession. What impelled Melville to write ‘Moby-Dick’? After his book in 1851, no one saw whales in quite the same way again.
This book is an investigation into what we know little about – dark, shadowy creatures who swim below the depths, only to surface in a spray of spume. More than the story of the whale, it is also the story of our own obsessions.
It’s probably the right time of year to re-post a link to this interview with Robin Dunbar of Oxford University from a few years back (I’m deducing this from the fact that I’ve already had Valentine’s wishes from charities and memory card suppliers today and been invited to ‘fall in love with’ an ‘air-conditioning solution’, so something is clearly in the air).
GM: It has to be said that in the mammalian world, promiscuity certainly has the upper hand over monogamy..
RD: Yes, this is mainly a consequence of the fact that mammals opted for internal gestation followed by lactation. That makes it very difficult for the males to do very much because there isn’t much in the form of parental engagement that they can engage in.
It may not increase your romantic instincts on Valentine’s Day, but what Robin has to say about pairbonding is fascinating. You’ll also find out why a good sense of humour is so often mentioned in dating profiles and what the origins of kissing are…
First time interviewing two poets at the same time; first time interviewing twins; first time interviewing identical twins; first time interviewing identical twin poets; first time interviewing two contributors to a tête-bêche (top-to-toe) edition, writing on the same theme – the death of their older brother – but in very different styles.
Matthew and Michael Dickman tactfully made my task much easier by periodically referring to each other by name, thereby making it clear to the listener who was talking.
“We have lost our reason,” writes philosopher Julian Baggini in the introduction to his latest book, The Edge of Reason, “and our loss is no accident. Gradually, the contemporary West has become more and more dismissive of the power of reason. Caring for it less, we often find we have left it behind.”
The book explores some of the causes and consequences of this loss, and suggests ways in which we can reclaim reason, perhaps counter-intuitively by making “deflationary” (i.e. quite modest, or at least qualified) claims for it. Baggini acknowledges that reason has its limitations, and cannot in the real world be reduced to some abstract model or algorithm. Human beings are irrational in a host of ways, he argues, but reason remains our most powerful tool to tackle the problems – political and ethical – that our complex modern societies face: reason is a means of finding common ground.
Baggini quotes psychologist Dan Ariely with approval: “We are limited, we are not perfect, we are irrational in all kinds of ways. But we can build a world that is compatible with this that gets us to make better decisions rather than worse decisions. That’s my hope.”
At several points in the book, Baggini emphasises the value of careful attending, in other words, listening, tuning in, rather than seeking to devise a knock-down argument. So listen in now to what he has to say about recovering reason. I recorded this podcast with Julian at home in Bristol a few weeks ago.
What would it have been like to spend five days attending the ancient Greek Olympics in 388 BC? That’s what Neil Faulkner‘s book sets out to explore. You can listen to the interview, which I recorded with Neil in the spring of 2012, shortly before the London games, by clicking on the media players above or below. And there’s more information about the book on Yale University Press’s website here.
In the interview, Neil tells me:
‘Ancient Greece is a highly divided and competitive world, and it’s a world that puts huge emphasis on sport, partly because all of Greece’s city states depend for their armed forces on a citizen militia made up of their adult male citizens. So there’s a sense in which Greek sport is war without the shooting. It’s preparation for war in a highly divided and competitive world.’
And we also produced a short video of Neil talking about the book:
With the same inevitability as the shifting tectonic plates perhaps, my podcast backlist seems to have drifted off iTunes and disappeared beneath the waves. So I am intending to use the opportunity, which did not initially come as welcome news, to gradually re-present all my interviews from the past ten years. They may not all arrive in chronological order, but this was definitely the first interview with which Podularity kicked off on Hallowe’en 2007.
Here’s what I said about the podcast first time round:
Ten billion years in the life of our planet. That’s the subject of this first Podularity podcast. And all in a little over 17 minutes … Alert readers may already object that it’s impossible to cover 10 billion years, as the Earth is only six billion years old. (If you are objecting that the Earth is a great deal younger than that, then this podcast is probably not going to appeal to you.) However, Ted Nield’s new book, Supercontinent, looks not only deep into the past by examining the geological record, but also peers into the planet’s far-distant future.
And here’s what Simon Winchester said about Ted’s book in his review of it:
The four-dimensional complexities of our happy little planet – “earth’s immeasurable surprise” – are made elegantly accessible by Ted Nield in this truly exceptional book. At least until the next major discovery it deserves to become the standard work, ideal for students of the subject, and hugely enjoyable to those for whom the world remains an unfathomable enigma.
My guest in this podcast is Zoë Anderson, ballet critic of the Independent and author of The Ballet Lover’s Companion, recently published by Yale University Press. Zoë’s book traces the history and development of ballet as an art form by focusing on 140 works in the repertoire: classics, revived rarities and modern masterpieces. Sarah Crompton, reviewing the book in the Sunday Times, called it authoritative and praised its ‘crisp ability to convey an affection for ballet and a clear-eyed view of its oddities’.