Good Reading : July 2009
author profile Something more than author pr hor profile Something more than ideas are more i r profile Something more than ideas ideas are more important than feelings when it comes to writing fiction. A s Alex Clark wrote in the Guardian in 2000, ‘A S Byatt is a clever writer who has often been accused of being too clever’. The English author’s latest novel, The Children’s Book, may be her readers’ greatest challenge yet. A sprawling, 600-plus page tale, it begins in the lateVictorian era, meanders through the entire Edwardian period, then dashes across the horrors of World War I. While English c Wellwoo relatives odd histo Wilde, in to the bo its vigorous politics, class, innocence feminism Asked elaborate admits that ‘The relate all other par 18 goodreading ı JULY 2009 Book ‘is an accumulation of hundreds of lovingly discovered facts and objects,’ she says. ‘It began with the discovery that the children of children’s story writers are not happy, and sometimes kill themselves.’ Some of the Edwardian era’s most memorable literature was written for children: Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, for example, and J M Barrie’s Peter Pan. However, Antonia’s research suggested that these and other children’s authors from the period were, like Peter Pan, children who never grew up. The Edwardian classics the were just some of the countle A S Byatt devoured as a child was Antonia Susan Drabble ( th y penned countless books child, when she (one of her two sisters is author Margaret Drabble). She ‘was ill with very bad asthma me still’, during ated to the . ‘I read fairy books, The lopaedia, and ane Austen, ckens and Sir Walter Scott.’ d lo an After studies at Cambridge, d and in the United States, this of reading led to an academic teaching English and American literatur literatu e, which only fuelled her passion. Among Amon her favourite writers are those whose ‘formal structures of thinking wr w iting’ she responds to: George Eliot, Proust, Thomas Mann, Balzac. temporary writers she admires are ingenious, the quirky, those not icted to writing about people’s feelings’, like Lawrence Norfolk, ary Mantel, Ali Smith, David Mitchell and Tobias Hill. feelin Mitc Though not every great reader has what it takes to become a great wriiter, A S Byatt certainly did. Starting her first novel, The Shadow of th Antonia Byatt ely about people’s feelings, ere are some great ones. I e to think as well as feel, and be told in more than one way. start writing until the form is complicated already.’ eparatory work – extensive reading taking – is a critical aspect of iting process. The Children’s although I finished it I put it in a drawer and started another in the the Sun, while still a student, she ‘wrote and rewrote it, including during lectures. It was very long and alth States as a postgraduate. This became my second novel, The Game.’ Soon after marrying Ian Byatt in 1959, she had two children – a period in which she rewrote The Shadow of the Sun. A friend took the manuscript to his publishers, Chatto & Windus. They liked it, and remain her publishers to this day.