Anthony Gardner, how did it feel to grow up between Ireland and England?
I was in London until the age of ten, and then in Tipperary with school and university in England. Going backwards and forwards between the two during The Troubles didn’t feel comfortable at all. As a writer I’ve come to appreciate the advantages of not belonging entirely in one place – always having an outsider’s eye.
What did you read as a child?
C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia; Kate Seredy’s The Good Master and The Singing Tree; John Buchan’s The 39 Steps; Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle’s Molesworth books
Who were early formative influences as a fledgling writer?
For poetry, W.B. Yeats; for prose, Evelyn Waugh and F.Scott Fitzgerald.
Was writing fiction an extension of being a journalist, or did you want to be a writer from the start?
I wanted to write books as soon as I started reading them, but realised that it would be a challenge to earn a living from fiction – so I turned to journalism as a day job.
To what extent is literary criticism essential intellectual training for a would-be writer?
Reading widely is essential, but I’m not sure that conscious analysis is.
Did you have much encouragement in those early days?
From friends, yes; from the publishing industry, no.
Who were your first publishers?
Starhaven, a splendid small independent house.
What is editing? How important were and are your editors?
Editing is like cleaning boots – you scrape off the mud to find the essential shape and then polish it. I’m shamefully reluctant to make changes to my own writing, but luckily my wife Rosanna is an extraordinarily acute editor who can generally persuade me to buff things up.
How do you choose your subjects?
They begin as ideas – in the case of The Rivers of Heaven, “What is a baby thinking when it’s wheeled around a supermarket?” – which simmer away until I can’t resist exploring them in a book.
What is your writing process? Do you do many drafts?
I write by hand and do my best to get it right first time; but typing it into the computer give me a fresh eye and is an important part of the editing process.
When you look at the books you have written is there a favourite?
The Pool and Other Poems, because I’d never really tried to get my poetry published, and it felt like a wonderful unexpected bonus.
What are you working on now?
A novel about talent.
Are there any other writers in your family?
My nephew Anthony Colclough is a very promising poet and short-story writer, and my sister-in-law Rachel Kelly writes about mental health.
Your view of writing courses?
I’m very much in two minds about them. It’s splendid that they give people the opportunity to write, but I think they often raise false expectations.
Your views on book publishing?
When I left university I thought briefly about it as a profession and wrote to fifty publishers asking for a job. Half of them didn’t bother to reply. It was an early insight into the way the industry treats people.
Your views on how new technology and social media have (or have not) changed your writing life?
The internet is obviously helpful for research, and social media for promoting books, but they’re also a dangerous distraction from the real life of the mind.
Your views on celebrity?
I find it hard to get excited about, though I do get irritated when publishers pay famous people large sums for pretending to be writers.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
Plymouth on 26 September 1580, when Francis Drake sailed in after completing his three-year circumnavigation of the world. It must have been one of the most thrilling moments in history.
Who are your heroes and/or heroines in fiction? And in real life?
Perhaps because I’m a writer, narrators appeal to me more than conventional heroes: Nick Jones in A Dance to the Music of Time, Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. In real life, Jean Vanier, founder of the charity L’Arche, has made the greatest impression.
What are your favourite literary journals?
Slightly Foxed and The Literary Review.
Your bedside reading?
The Diaries of Samuel Pepys.
Your chief characteristic?
Your chief fault?
I have such a high regard for writers and artists that I probably don’t take other professions seriously enough.
“Ars longa, vita brevis” – or in Chaucer’s delightful translation, “The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne”.
Anthony Gardner’s books include The Rivers of Heaven (Starhaven), Fox (Scotland Street Press) and The Pool and Other Poems (Starhaven). He was the founding editor of the Royal Society of Literature Review and has written for Sunday Times Magazine, The Economist and Irish Times Magazine. He is married to the artist and translator, Rosanna Kelly, who specialises in Russian subjects.
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