I am presently doing events in the UK:
Tomorrow 30 May: I’ll be reading with Yuri Herrera at Burley Fisher Books,400 Kingsland Road, E8 4AA, London at 7pm.
1 June: Waterstones, Cork, Ireland. 6.30pm I am reading with Lisa McInerney & Pat Cotter.
3 June: Listowel Writers’ Week, Listowel, Ireland with Patrick deWitt 7.30pm.
Would like to sincerely thank Eimear McBride who very generously interviewed me last Thursday at The Book Hive in Norwich. It was one of my favourite events and discussions ever about MARTIN JOHN. Also, thanks to the Greenwich Book Festival this weekend, at which I did a splendid event with Alex Pheby and Andrew Harkinson, moderated by the excellent Susanna Rustin. The tour kicked off in Dublin at the International Literature Festival last Tuesday with a great event with Lucy Caldwell. Thanks indeed to Selina Guinness, our moderator, for her very close & considered readings of both books. Much gratitude to these festivals & bookshops for inviting me & especially to the engaged and responsive audiences at all these events.
Three matters upon which to rapidly tap here.
1) This is the finest deployment of a narrative ankle I’ve ever read. No surprise it’s Eileen Myles ankle in her first person piece “On the Excruciating Pain of Waiting for Love.”
“My natural state was so out of control that it had to be medicated almost to death and since I didn’t want to die I had nothing but this, running and sex. I would twist my ankle again and again.”
This ankle captures something so precisely. It captures how the brain does its own thing and how the body attempts to speak back to it or how we push the body to do so. It captures how a person might try to say, no fuck you brain you will not sink me because I am running away from you or is it toward you? Anyway it’s marvellous how that twisted ankle and running and rerunning on it manages to speak to and of humanity and how it is that humanity never entirely recovers from its own ankles.
2) MARTIN JOHN has arrived in Dublin via Holyhead.
John Self very thoughtfully reviewed Martin John in The Guardian. I appreciated his point about trolls and more besides.
The Sunday Telegraph had things to say about him too: Including cinq étoiles.
There’s very little that silences me but Eileen Battersby’s review of Martin John in The Irish Times has managed it. I am quite stunned by this review. My constant refrain inside my rust-inclined brain is that I just need smart readers. I don’t need big prize cheques, just smart, curious readers who engage with literature. I also need time to read and write. Time will come if the smart readers come and buy my books. The exciting thing about this review * is it might bring some readers. It might bring readers because … well read it and decide.
(* I realize the role of a critical review is to be an engaging piece of writing in its own right. Its role is not a sales pitch. That’s catalogue and back cover copy. But writers are equally nothing without readers and readers find writers sometimes through reading criticism. I certainly do)
3) To celebrate these reviews I am now going to read Thomas Bernhard’s Wittgenstein’s Nephew. I only recently discovered Bernhard when my friend visual artist/writer Marina Roy (Sign after the X) told me about him and gave me a copy of Extinction. Wittgenstein’s Nephew has to be the greatest literary vehicle ever for a set of lungs. A pulmonary classic!
Bernhard is so funny and grimly particular about the happiness in unhappiness and in this book, the disregarded literary potential in the thoracic. I read some lines in this novel, and even at this early stage of our reading relationship, think ONLY Bernhard could have written this.
“Like Paul, I woke up in a hospital bed on the Wilhelminenberg, almost totally destroyed through overrating myself and the world”
“..or at any rate I would certainly not be the person I am today, so mad and so unhappy, yet at the same time happy”
In which I contemplate why it might be awkward if I had met or were to meet Beckett & speculate on Rosa Luxemburg and milk
I will soon be appearing at 2 events at IFOA in Toronto. In anticipation of these events and the festival (which is an inspired and wonderful affair that this year features a focus on Catalan writers and poetry) I answered some questions and plumbed some philosophical quandaries and questions of milk consumption.
IFOA: Your anticipated second novel, Martin John, expands on a character from your first novel, Malarky. Why did you decide to delve deeper into the character of Beirut?
Anakana Schofield: A conflation of circumstances led to this. The first was the cheeky insertion for pure devilment of a single footnote in Malarky that read “See Martin John – a footnote novel” not knowing whether or not I’d ever actually write that novel. I had material that I’d chucked out of Malarky, which initially was a parallel narrative of two mothers and sons.
Then came an urgency to respond to the plethora of reports of clerical sexual abuse during recent years, which I felt left me with no choice but to address some aspect of deviancy, somehow, in fiction.
I guess in both examples “response” was the impetus.
In Malarky, the Beirut/Martin John we met is an endearing man. In Martin John, Martin John has become something other. He departed or reversed (since we met him older in Malarky) very far from where we started with him.
IFOA: In addition to fiction, you also write essays and literary criticism. How are these different forms of writing connected?
Schofield: I’m a reader before I am a writer. My thinking on literature and reading towards what it is I want to write are very much informed by reading and writing criticism. I’m also over interested in very random topics, so essays and the blogs, which I pen for the London Review of Books, help me explore these curiosities. I’m fortunate to have editors who encourage and support my rambles.
IFOA: Your website lists reading, the weather, bird flu and labour history as some of your preoccupations. How do these interests inspire your writing?
Schofield: I suppose they are four quarters of a whole. Basically I have a hearty appetite for what most would consider entirely redundant information. There’s very little that I’m not curious about.
IFOA: If you could meet any author, living or dead, whom would it be?
Schofield: I think Rosa Luxemburg. I would like to discuss her cold baths, high consumption of milk and fury with that printer in Paris described in her letters. Then we’d progress to the spindle statistics in Poland and she could educate me on Marxist matters. But mostly it’s the milk that intrigues me. Nietzsche went heavy on the milk. I haven’t checked, but did they both have bad acne?
I think one should be careful of meeting one’s heroes; they may disappoint and sadly are not the only person who ever understood you. They can be tired, short tempered and bad mannered. Apart from the ones who are lovely. All are best met on the page methinks.
For example, if I met Beckett, we would sit next to each other beside a coal shed on uncomfortable chairs and discuss the weather and possibly sigh a great deal. Essentially I don’t need to meet him because I’m perpetually sighing a great deal and have seen plenty coal sheds. Also he’d smoke, which would make me cough, then he’d offer me whiskey and my left kidney wouldn’t like that. It could be very awkward for us.
IFOA: What is the best compliment a reader can give you about your work?
Schofield: To read it or attempt to read it or to read widely. I’ve a few favourite readers: one wrote me a lovely email that said she was going for a walk to think about Our Woman. Another is Bill in Ohio and he took to Google Maps and did all kinds of additional research to understand Malarky. I also rather enjoy the very angry man who wrote invoking the mafia, hookers and my mother in one line. I’m quite acquainted with some of my readers through social media and they are splendidly intelligent, jovial and patiently answer my random queries on things like bad foot pain and weather reports.
I was not asleep.
I was awake and walking about trying to get a flu shot. That’s an early flu shot because I very much need to get vaccinated because I am travelling about so much on little sleep until November.
I had decided not to watch any live stream of any book prize announcement since it feels a bit too much like going to the Stocks. I had instructed the teen to take it up with Google and report as needs be.
As I was failing to find an early flu shot at this early hour, the Teen gallantly phoned me to emit a tirade of complaint against the poor web functionality of various literary media sources. He was expounding on how technologically useless such outfits were and was much more interested in assessing the web technicalities of how they were conducting themselves than paying any heed to the matter in question. He concluded his tirade with “if you are wondering why I have no update or information whatsoever that is the reason why”. I joined him by fermenting on my failure to secure a flu shot at one outlet but that I was now marching on in search of other possibilities.
I was precisely by the VGH ER dept when I learned by phone from a friend that my book had been selected for the Giller Prize shortlist. Where are you? She asked. I am trying and failing to get a flu shot.
Today really was some day for a single day and I am deeply grateful for the extraordinary messages of support and kindness that have been flying my way all day long. I don’t quite know what I have done to deserve such outpourings of kindness and celebration and may well be undeserving, but I’ll take it.
What a great longlist, what a great shortlist. You’re only as good as those you nest beside. And that for me includes a long continuum of writers, some of whom may be forgotten, some of whom were insufficiently acknowledged, but all of whom were read by someone, somewhere, including me. And that’s the entire point of literature. That it’s be read and contemplated. So thank you to anyone who reads and contemplates my work or any writer’s work for that matter. Books give way to books the way sentences give way or respond to sentences.
In that spirit, I took to the bed a la Proust with a glass of hot port to help my husky voice and books by Lisa Robertson and Vivian Gornick along with the telephone, which rang and rang and all was well. By night to celebrate, my son and I took a walk by the sea, ate Thai rice & looked at pictures of cats on Reddit who poke their tongues out.