Richard Flanagan – I’ve Imagined the Post-Booker Interview so that The Mail Doesn’t Have To.

I’m lucky enough to have an entirely imaginary Richard Flanagan (IRF) sitting at my kitchen table with an entirely imaginary journalist (IJ), and I’m witnessing the Post-Man Booker interview we’ve all been waiting for.
IJ: So, Richard – can I call you Richard? – congratulations on winning the Man Booker this year. We know your novel must be really good, because it’s just won the Man Booker, so shall we move on?
IRF: Well, I do have some things to say about the novel. It’s been said recently that the novel is dead or dying, but I don’t agree with that. In my acceptance speech, I said that novels are one of our greatest spiritual, aesthetic and intellectual inventions…,
IJ: Talking of aesthetics, I noticed that you wore traditional black tie to the awards ceremony. Interesting choice. Were you told what to wear, or did you decide to keep it predictable so that we could all focus on your work (which we know is good, because it’s just won the Man Booker)?
IRF: I’m not sure that really matters. As I was saying, novels are life…
IJ: But surely you included a cheeky individual detail in your outfit? Like one of those ties in the Presents for Men catalogue that looks conservative on the front but actually has a scantily-clad 1950s poster girl printed on the reverse? Can I call you Ritchie, like in Happy Days?
IRF: I was wearing a bow tie. And…
IJ: And what a style statement that is. Are you expecting the sales of bow ties to go up as a result?
IRF: I genuinely haven’t given it a moment’s thought.
IJ: Who did your hair for the ceremony?
IRF: I’m bald.
IJ: So should we all invest in a head razor? What brand would you recommend? Will you be looking for a sponsorship deal?
IRF: No.
IJ: So you’re already in a committed relationship, right?
IRF: Yes, and I want to pay tribute to my beloved Majda, who has travelled with me through many dark times…
IJ: Hands off, girls, he’s taken! Perhaps you could take the edge off our disappointment by telling us the secret to keeping a relationship going AND being a writer? Do you have date nights? Or a romantic meal you cook when Majda gets annoyed with you for writing all the time?
IRF: Er…
IJ: And what about children? Have you got any, and if so, how do you manage to look after them AND your partner AND write a great long novel all about a rather nasty war? Doesn’t it upset them to have you thinking about such unpleasant things? I mean, I’m not sure I’d want my parents writing about people’s wounds rotting in jungles and death by starvation.
IRF: I’m really not sure that’s relevant.
IJ: Are you saying you don’t have any children? That’s interesting. Is it a choice you’ve made so you could focus on your career, and if so do you feel an empty gaping hole at the core of your life where your self-definition should be? Can I call you Dick?
IRF: No. Can we talk about The Narrow Road to the Deep North?
IJ: What, the M1?
IRF: No. My novel. The one that’s just won the Man Booker Prize.
IJ: You are going on about that quite a bit, you know. Do you feel insecure in your success? I mean, do you think you really deserve to win something like this? I expect you feel a bit like an imposter who’s about to be found out. Who do you think should have won it?
IRF: All the shortlisted novels were great achievements. I felt honoured to be the company of such wonderful writers.
IJ: So you’re jealous of them?
IRF: Not at all. I admire them all enormously.
IJ: But you won?
IRF: Yes. Yes, I did.
IJ: Well, it’s not terribly attractive to hark on about it, you know. I’m surprised your grandmother never taught you that.
IRF: My grandparents were illiterate. I think that shows the possibility of the novel, and of writing, and of the power of words…
IJ: Well. Quite. I’m glad you feel so good about yourself. Good luck with that dark gaping hole in your life.
IRF: Are all my interviews going to be like this?
IJ: Probably not, actually. I’ve just realised that you’re not Ali Smith or Karen Joy Fowler.

Four months till publication – October

Having started this monthly countdown to publication by acknowledging that I needed to get some domestic help, I’d intended to use this post to write about the help I finally sought; what worked, what hasn’t worked, and about how, when you delegate something, there’s a strange patch of time when help actually consumes far more time that it saves. I’ve invested a great deal of time in the six weeks since our au pair arrived in establishing routines, and it’s beginning to work. The school run (an hour and a half when I do it alone) is now a shared chore; ballet and Cubs and Beavers and Brownies and Junior Choir are all firmly on the map; our au pair has started college and is making friends, and his willingness to run errands is of immeasurable value in protecting my time while the children are at school.
And then, on Thursday last week, everything collapsed. My mother had kindly taken the early school run; our au pair was gathering the later departure together; I was revelling in the thought of a rare early start to my working time. I dashed to fetch the vegetable monster which was to be the youngest’s contribution to Reception’s harvest decorations (the creation of which merits a blog post of its own), and there, huddled in the hallway and weeping into his mobile phone, was our au pair. ‘Mon père est morte,’ he said. My father is dead.
Nothing matters terribly now. Our au pair is nineteen. He has lost his father. Our children have had their first experience of loss – the father of the young man who’s been playing with them, taking them to school and making Saturday morning football possible, is far more immediate and relevant to them than the only other death they’ve been aware of, that of their Australian great grandmother last year. They haven’t always embraced our au pair, but the days between the news and his departure were filled with drawings and lovingly constructed Lego models, offered with shy deference and cuddles.
We cushion ourselves from death. We have new treatments, new drugs, healthier lifestyles, more understanding of how to live. We’re shocked when doctors put Do Not Resuscitate notices on the deathbeds of their relatives. Life expectancy in the developed world creeps higher and higher. Cures for once-fatal diseases are discovered. But still we die. It’s death that connects us with life. This is an important theme of The Ship; it’s also true. When we isolate and disconnect ourselves from the thought of death, we cut ourselves off from the curious wealth that is being alive.
And so, for the moment, I’m strangely content. Heartsick for the young man who’ll be attending his father’s funeral tomorrow, but glad in the chaos that is my life. Yes, I’ve got to get tea together; James is on a trip next week and has shut himself away to prepare; I’ve got another novel to write and can’t see when that’s going to happen, and four children to get to two different schools with four different start and finish times and no help. The children have been playing noisily and happily ever since I started writing this, but I can feel their game beginning to deteriorate as tensions run high. (‘Why do I always have to be the naughty unicorn? I want to be the dragon.’ ‘You can’t be the dragon, you’re wearing a t shirt.’) I need to conclude and run. And so, just this: thank you. Whether you’re reading by accident or design; whether you think you may read The Ship or avoid it like the plague; whether you’re a published writer or an aspiring one or one of those rare and fortunate people who are content exactly where they are, I’m grateful for the minutes you’ve given to reading this. Embrace your loved ones; feel pride in the joy you bring them; give yourself a small break to appreciate this moment, without worrying too much about the next. We’re doing ok, people. We’re doing ok.