Frog Music and collaborative harmony: an interview with Emma Donoghue

ED2013bw“One very Irish theme I explore through this odd story (Frog Music) is the lingering, multi-generation effect of the neglect and abuse of children.”

Emma Donoghue discusses bringing Room to the big screen and how only obsessive dedication to research produces a thick enough texture, as the author becomes a reporter from another time and place.

With Lenny Abrahamson set to direct the movie adaptation of Room, how do you expect his vision of the book will translate to the screen and how have you been involved in that process?

I’m involved up to my eyeballs – as an executive producer with a say in everything from location to casting (which is already underway), but mostly as the scriptwriter. Working with Lenny is teaching me so much about film: a whole other art form. I think he’s got just the right combination of artistic purity and down-to-earth populism to make Room the film just as good as the book.  It’s also proving to be one of the most harmonious and indeed hilarious collaborative relationships of my career.  So far, that is – ultimately he’s the boss, so I may hate him by the time the final cuts are made! But I doubt it.

Having come from an academic background, bringing a great deal of research to your fictional works, how did you prepare to create the setting of San Francisco in 1876 for your latest novel, Frog Music?

I always do too much research, because only too much is enough.  Meaning, that I have to follow my curiosity down every little trail, and become a temporary expert in things that may not even end up being shown in the book.  In my experience, only that kind of obsessive dedication produces a thick enough texture – a sense that the author is a sort of reporter from another time and place.  What was new about Frog Music was that I used so many online sources (genealogical databases, local newspapers, ships’ passenger lists, census returns) that would have been almost impossible for me to access ten or twenty years ago.

Were you inspired or influenced by an actual murder case from that time in writing the book?

Yes, I drew on about sixty newspaper articles about the San Miguel Mystery, which was the term of the day for the unsolved shooting of a young cross-dressing frog catcher called Jenny Bonnet.

You’ve mentioned previously that you assume nothing about the people who will read your books and that “the real value of telling a freakish story is to illuminate the normal and universal”, have you continued with that approach with Frog Music?

Definitely.  Gender-benders like Jenny, for instance, show what it was like for everyone else to follow the laws of masculinity and femininity. One very Irish theme I explore through this odd story is the lingering, multi-generation effect of the neglect and abuse of children.

How would you describe the main characters and the crux of the story? Love gone sour, friendship wreaking havoc, bohemian fun leading to bloodshed and horror.

Do you feel you used your own life for fiction in any aspects of Frog Music? Oh yes: all my bad-mother moments helped me channel the narrator Blanche, a thorough selfish pleasure-seeker unprepared for motherhood. She was a particular relief to write after the heroic young mother in Room.

Are you currently working on any new plays or novels? I’m writing a children’s book – another new genre for me, right after trying the murder mystery in Frog Music.  (It’s very humbling, feeling like a complete beginner every time.)

Interview by Lynne Nolan

Emma Donoghue will be speaking at a special preview event for Dublin Writers Festival at The Printworks (Dublin Castle) on March 29. For further details and to book tickets click here

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Bakers Dozen: Proust Questionnaire 13 – SK, and goodbye!

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After ending on a high last night with the celebration of Dennis O’Driscoll’s life and work, Dublin Writers Festival 2013 is closing its doors for another year. Thank you so much for reading. It has been a pleasure contributing, and here is number 13 to make the Proust Questionnaires a “bakers dozen”. Thanks also to all the contributors, and goodbye for now – SK. p.s. Richard Ford did warn me beforehand that he wasn’t good with questionnaires. Just to clarify (!).

What is your idea of happiness?

Being with the people I love most in the world. But also, having time alone, reading, listening to music, watching things I really like, walking by the sea, pottering, tippling prosecco and watching the world go by, writing, swimming, cycling, daydreaming uninterrupted.

Where would you most like to live?

Dublin is home in so many ways, but I would also like to live (and may yet) in New York, Reykjavik, Paris, Copenhagen, anywhere in Italy, and then near Blacksod Bay in Mayo, which is home-home.

What is your favourite virtue?

Honesty.

What are your favourite qualities in a man?

Honesty, communication, kindness, humour, courage, gentleness, loyalty.

What are your favourite qualities in a woman?

The same, really.

What do you most value in your friends?

Their senses of humour, their gentleness, loyalty, and also their kindness and strength, their acceptance and open-heartedness, their differences and good natures, and that I seem to corral them into mad things without too much trouble.

What is your biggest weakness?

Overthinking things. Worrying. Anxiety. Daydreaming and drifting when I should be working.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Doing things for others. Writing. Reading. Listening to music. Watching really good television. Walking by the sea. Cycling. Dinners with friends. Music festivals. Swimming. Going to live music as much as possible. Going to the pictures. Seeing a really good stand up comic. Watching a great football match. Travelling. Being cosy, by the fire. Watching/listening to political programmes. Listening to the radio. Sewing things that need mending.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Curiosity. Passion for things. Being reliable. Loyalty. Nervy. Tired (these days).

What is your idea of misery?

Being misunderstood. Being let down really badly. Someone I care about being very unwell. People struggling and lonely.

If not yourself, who would you like to be?

I suppose you just have to try and be yourself, sadness comes from trying to be someone else.

What is your favourite colour and flower?

Deep scarlet red, and emerald green. Freesia.

What is your favourite bird?

The owl, followed closely by the robin.

Who are your favourite writers?

A very long list, but some that spring to mind instantly are; John McGahern, James Joyce, Edna O’Brien, David Sedaris, Christopher Marlowe, Charles Dickens, Alice Munro, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, Juvenal, Tove Jansson, Roald Dahl, Horace, Lester Bangs, Jane Austen, Henry Miller, Stan Lee, George Bernard Shaw, Grant Morrison, William Goldman, George Eliot, the Bronte’s, Elizabeth Gaskell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Trevor, Shalom Auslander, Annie Proulx, Henry Fielding, Alexander Pope, Louisa May Alcott, Halldor Laxness, Lewis Carroll, Richard Ford, Ernest Hemingway, Alan Moore, George Plimpton, Anais Nin, Ronald Dworkin, John Stuart Mill, Flann O’Brien, Raymond Carver, James Baldwin, Edgar Allen Poe, Kurt Vonnegut, Iris Murdoch, Homer, Stendhal, Laurence Sterne, Samuel Beckett, Marcel Proust, the list goes on and on…..

Who are your favourite poets?

Seamus Heaney, Tim Key, Patrick Kavanagh, Wendy Cope, Christina Rossetti, John Keats, W.B. Yeats, W. H. Auden, Philip Larkin, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and so many more….

Who are your favourite artists?

Louise Bourgeois, Edward Gorey, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paula Rego, Sandro Botticelli, Francesca Woodman, Leonarda Da Vinci, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, and so many more. And then if expanding on the term artist, I would include people like Daniel Kitson, Woody Allen, Chris Rock, Louis CK, Amy Sedaris, Neil Hamburger, Phyllis Diller, Jon Stewart, Dylan Moran, George Carlin, Gilda Radner, Bill Cosby, Rodney Dangerfied, Jerry Seinfeld, Andy Kaufman, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Larry David, Richard Pryor, George Burns, Carol Burnett, Amy Poehler, Jackie Mason, Dave Chappelle, Steve Coogan,  and so many others who have made the world a better place just by their very existence, and ability to make me laugh a lot. And Eric Cantona, of course, who is a wonder.

Who are your favourite musicians?

A very long list, but here are a few; Planxty, Kate Bush, Rakim, Tommy Peoples, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Oscar Peterson, Allen Touissant, Van Dyke Parks, The Walkmen, Harry Nilsson, Count Basie, Randy Newman, Björk, Owen Pallett, Destroyer, Future Islands, Prince, Wu-Tang Clan, Mary J. Blige, Mel Torme, Paul Simon, Mos Def, The Smiths, Talib Kweli, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Belle and Sebastian, Elvis Costello, Phil Lynott, Low, Public Enemy, Nat King Cole, Big Star, David Bowie, Beach House, Dan Deacon, Owen Ashworth, Bobby Short, Miracle Fortress, Creedence Clearwater Revival, El-Producto, Junior Boys, The Zombies, Charles Mingus, The Modern Lovers, Miles Davis, Slick Rick, Roy Orbison, Joni Mitchell, Beastie Boys, Max Roach, Dusty Springfield, Juan Atkins, Notorious B.I.G., Suicidal Tendencies, Pavement, Cocteau Twins, Clipse, Thelonious Monk, Daniel Johnston, Arvo Pärt, Prokofiev, Satie, and so many more….

Who are your favourite heroes and heroines in fiction?

Elizabeth Bennett, Stephen Dedelus, Jane Eyre, Little My, Jo March, Batman, Catwoman.

Who are the heroes and heroines in your life?

My parents, my brothers, my friends, others that have come in and out of my life and left a legacy.

Who are your favourite heroes and heroines in history?

Grace O’Malley, Martin Luther King, Tony Benn, Michael Collins, Mary Robinson, Charles Stewart Parnell, Constance Markievicz, so many more if I start really thinking about it.

What is your favourite food and drink?

Food: Roast chicken dinner, hot buttered toast, cheeses, stew. Drinks: prosecco, coffee, red wine, hot chocolate, milk, and when the occasion requires it – a little glass of Guinness, a little glass of turfy whiskey.

What are your favourite names?

Patrick, Marcella, Finbar, Tomás, Woody, Agnes, Bridget.

What do you most dislike?

Thoughtlessness, people being unkind, lack of courtesy, people not being honest and true, bigotry and fascism in all its forms.

Which historical figures do you most dislike?

I suppose anyone associated with fascism, bigotry, and bullies really get me down.

What event in history do you most admire?

The civil rights movement in particular.

What social movement do you most admire?

The civil rights movement, socialism, feminism, anything that looks to level the playing field.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?

To fly like a little bird.

How would you like to die?

In the full knowledge of it, feeling like I gave life my best shot, and that I’d been true.

What is your present state of mind?

Very tired. Very woolly and worn out. Rainy.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

Thoughtlessness.

Which fault in others do you most easily tolerate?

Lateness, although maybe I don’t see it as a fault, as I am often late (!)

Which fault in yourself do you most easily tolerate?

I don’t know if I do, but perhaps procrastination, and being scattered.

What is your motto?

Young Hearts Run Free, and on days I don’t feel like that, I just watch Annie Hall or Barefoot in the Park and hope that tomorrow might be better.

Or this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xAAGh-3sw0

Proust Questionnaire 12: Tony Clayton-Lea

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Tony Clayton-Lea is a music journalist for The Irish Times, and will be chairing the 33 Revolutions Per Minute discussion this evening at 8.30pm in Liberty Hall.

What is your idea of happiness?

It changes, obviously. Sometimes it’s as simple as reading a newspaper or a book while I’m having breakfast. Other times, it’s just breathing between starting and finishing a piece of work. Watching movies, for sure.

Where would you most like to live?

Anywhere in a mortgage-free house, to be honest. Wish-list locations, however, include New York, Provence, Paris and County Meath.

What is your favourite virtue?

Anything that mixes honesty and humour is fine by me. Honour? Humesty?

What are your favourite qualities in a man?

Politeness, intelligence, humour, a good cologne; the ability to laugh at my jokes is a bonus.

What are your favourite qualities in a woman?

Politeness, intelligence, humour, a good perfume; the ability to laugh at my jokes is a bonus.

What do you most value in your friends?

I love the way they contact me the day before a gig looking for ticket.

What is your biggest weakness?

Apple tarts, Brandy Alexanders, Zoolander.

What do you enjoy doing most?

I really love my work (and I’d like more, if you don’t mind…)

What is your most marked characteristic?

Haven’t the foggiest – although now I come to think of it I am quite organised in an almost worryingly robotic way.

What is your idea of misery?

At the moment, it’s filing copy every hour to The Irish Times via Citrix.

If not yourself, who would you like to be?

I love being me. It’s, like, so… well, me. Oh, alright then: just for an hour or so, the writer Kevin Barry in order to know how the flipping heck he wrote something as brilliant as City Of Bohane.

What is your favourite colour and flower?

Awww, c’mon! What is this – Smash Hits?

What is your favourite bird?

You’re serious, right?

Who are your favourite writers?

Old school: Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene. Current (kind of): Carol Shields, Lorrie Moore, Patrick DeWitt, Kevin Barry. I used to love Ian McEwan, but Jeez, he’s gone off the boil in recent years.

Who are your favourite poets?

Bob Dylan, Aimee Mann, Lily Allen, John Cooper Clarke.

Who are your favourite artists?

Bridget Riley, Salvador Dali; and some of Banksy’s work is amazing.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have a sneaking admiration for Jack White. And while we’re on the topic – I HATE drum solos.

Who are your favourite heroes and heroines in fiction?

Charles Ryder (Brideshead Revisited – although he’s not really a hero, is he?); Miss Haversham (Great Expectations – she’s probably the best written loneliest person in literature, don’t you think?)

Who are the heroes and heroines in your life?

My brother; my mother and my wife.

Who are your favourite heroes and heroines in history?

Martin Luther King; Rosa Parks.

What is your favourite food and drink?

Probably a medium-rare steak and a glass of red wine; but you know, sometimes a Big Mac just hits the spot, doesn’t it?

What are your favourite names?

Angela, Sarah, Paul.

What do you most dislike?

Rudeness, discourtesy, people that you know quite well not replying to emails.

Which historical figures do you most dislike?

Hitler, and all those whose names escape me that tried to subjugate individuality and freedom of expression.

What event in history do you most admire?

Has to be the Civil Rights movement.

What social movement do you most admire?

Feminism.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?

The ability to crap gold bars would be nice, if quite likely uncomfortable.

How would you like to die?

Quickly, painlessly, without fuss.

What is your present state of mind?

It varies between beleaguered and becalmed.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

I loathe misogyny (and yet I really like the occasional sexist joke – go figure…)

Which fault in others do you most easily tolerate?

Let’s not go there, shall we?

Which fault in yourself do you most easily tolerate?

Ditto.

What is your motto?

Fair Play To All – it’s on the family Coat Of Arms, dontcha know…

Proust Questionnaire 11: Dorian Lynskey

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Dorian Lynskey is a music writer for The Guardian, and he is in conversation tonight exploring aspects of his brilliant book 33 Revolutions Per Minute with Sinéad Gleeson and Philip King at 8.30pm in Liberty Hall, but before that he will be DJ’ing at the sure-to-be-wonderful Faber Social at 6pm in Smock Alley/the Banquet Hall.

What is your idea of happiness?

Filing a piece that I’m proud of, spending some time with my daughters and then going out to a party where I can DJ. Or being at Glastonbury with my wife and friends, just before a favourite band comes on stage.

Where would you most like to live?

Where I live now – north London. Other than that, New York or San Francisco.

What is your favourite virtue?

Empathy.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I don’t know but my favourite one is making people laugh.

What is your idea of misery?

Feeling stuck.

If not yourself, who would you like to be?

Like most music writers, obviously I wish I could write great songs but then a lot of professional musicians struggle to do that.

Who are your favourite writers?

Philip Roth, F Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Conrad, Harold Pinter, Ibsen, Larkin, Shelley, Kazuo Ishiguro, John Dos Passos, Milan Kundera, Lorrie Moore, Joan Didion, Robert Christgau, Ellen Willis, Jon Savage, Rick Perlstein and Greil Marcus.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Pet Shop Boys, Public Enemy, Manic Street Preachers, David Bowie, Randy Newman, Chemical Brothers, Beach Boys, Kinks, New Order, Saint Etienne, Nile Rodgers, Kraftwerk, virtually everyone at Motown and, currently, Vampire Weekend and John Grant.

Who are your favourite heroes and heroines in fiction?

I don’t think I have any. Many of my favourite novels have dislikable characters.

Who are your favourite heroes and heroines in history?

Martin Luther King, Emma Goldman, Nye Bevan, Victor Jara, Shelley – idealists and troublemakers.

What social movement do you most admire?

The US civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?

The desire to exercise.

How would you like to die?

Older than my dad was.

What is your present state of mind?

Busy.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

Writers who pretend to hold obnoxiously provocative opinions for money.

Which fault in others do you most easily tolerate?

Lateness.

(SK)

Proust Questionnaire 10: Little John Nee

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Little John Nee is a writer, storyteller, performer and musician, who will be performing at the Faber Social, which takes place in Smock Alley, the Banquet Hall tomorrow at 6pm.

What is your idea of happiness?

Creating theatre shows and hanging out with friends.

Where would you most like to live?

In a comfortable barn on four acres of land.

What is your favourite virtue?

Compassion.

What are your favourite qualities in a man?

Generosity, gentleness, integrity, sense of humour, creativity and compassion.

What are your favourite qualities in a woman?

Generosity, gentleness, integrity, sense of humour, creativity, compassion and a good kisser.

What do you most value in your friends?

Forgiveness.

What is your biggest weakness?

Creating theatre.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Creating theatre.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Foolishness.

What is your idea of misery?

Bureaucracy.

If not yourself, who would you like to be?

Today Duke Ellington.

What is your favourite color and flower?

Crimson lake and gorse bush blossoms.

What is your favourite bird?

Swallow.

Who are your favourite writers?

Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard.

Who are your favourite poets?

Dylan Thomas.

Who are your favourite artists?

Banksy, Keeva Holland.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Way too many, listening to a lot of Duke Ellington. Robert Wyatt.

Who are your favourite heroes and heroines in fiction?

Bónapárt Ó Cúnasa in The Poor Mouth, Polly Garter in Under Milk Wood.

Who are the heroes and heroines in your life?

My parents and friends.

Who are your favourite heroes and heroines in history?

Geronimo, Rosa Parks, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Samuel Beckett, Margaret Barry, Utah Phillips, Muhammad Ali.

What is your favourite food and drink?

Indian vegetarian, homemade elderflower soda.

What are your favourite names?

Ruby, Rosa and Tobias.

What do you most dislike?

Arrogance in myself, and bullies.

Which historical figures do you most dislike?

Margaret Thatcher, Richard J.Daley, Himmler.

What event in history do you most admire?

Rosa Parks sitting on the bus.

What social movement do you most admire?

Dharma Punx.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?

To dance like Bojangles.

How would you like to die?

Old, happy and singing a song.

What is your present state of mind?

Mithered.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

Bureaucracy in arts.

Which fault in others do you most easily tolerate?

Limited musical ability.

Which fault in yourself do you most easily tolerate?

Limited musical ability.

What is your motto?

The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it.

(SK)

Interview with Dorian Lynskey

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Dorian Lynskey is a music writer for The Guardian, and over the years has contributed to publications such as Word and Blender. His book 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs was published by Faber in 2011. He will be appearing at Liberty Hall on Saturday (8.30pm).

SK: 33 Revolutions Per Minute is a great book. How long had the idea been clattering around your head, and did you find it a difficult book to write?

DL: In 2004-5 I covered political music stories in Kenya, Israel and Ukraine, which gave me the idea to write a book about protest songs around the world today but I couldn’t find a publisher. One publisher, however, suggested he’d like to read a history of protest songs. At first that seemed way too big a topic – and it’s still a big book – but one day the 33 Revolutions idea popped into my head as a way of organising the material and making it accessible both for the reader and for me as a writer. For me music is inextricably linked with my political awakening at the age of 16 so I loved the idea of exploring how songs introduce listeners to political ideas and events, and I realised that the book could serve the same purpose. It’s not just about the records but the historical context.

SK: Its sweep is huge, but it must have been a painstaking editing process, surely you could have had a second, and third volume?

DL: It was surprisingly easy to choose the 33 songs, although I do now wish I’d been able to deal with feminism in music prior to Riot Grrrl, and perhaps Irish music. Other than that, it felt I was able to cover what I wanted to without making it too diffuse. But the first draft was about 50,000 words longer and cutting that material was hard. But then who wants to read a 1000+ pages? [I do – SK]

SK:How did your love of music begin, and were you quite acutely aware, for example, as a teenager, at the radiant, and sometimes strained relationship between politics and music?

DL:The first song I was ever obsessed with was Rent by Pet Shop Boys when I was 13. It can’t quite explain why – it just flicked a switch that turned ordinary curiosity about the Top 40 into a lifelong passion. Then when I was 16 and thinking more about politics I had Public Enemy, Ice Cube, New Model Army, etc – a little later there was Riot Grrrl and Rage Against the Machine. It always felt to me that music was a great gateway into other things, including politics. While writing the book I was reminded that the first time I grasped the concept of nuclear war was while listening to the 12″ of Two Tribes by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. That’s a pretty heavy revelation to get from a pop song, let alone one that was number one for nine weeks. I think lots of people have that experience, whether it’s hearing about apartheid through Free Nelson Mandela or racial politics in the US via hip hop. It didn’t seem problematic to me then – it just felt like one of the things pop music can do. I think it’s a shame that younger listeners don’t have as many mainstream artists who can make them excited about politics and dissent.

SK:Folk music has always harnessed protest, and the oral tradition handed down, honouring stories that have gone before, but which remain topical. There are so many different kinds of protests, and preoccupations within protest  – is that what you have found with your research?

DL: That’s a very broad question but yes, it’s the variety that keeps it interesting. Some songs are great because they’re so specific and describe a particular person or incident, but other are equally great because they’re vague and universally applicable.

SK: Hip-hop harnessed my imagination quite early on, and I am still drawn to it, the love of language, the verve. Do you think it has gone away from its early touchstone of social change, and a restless kind of need to speak about what is genuinely happening on the streets?

DL: Well hip hop started off “stupid” so to speak with Rappers Delight, didn’t touch on politics until The Message, and only really had a big political phase circa 1988-92. I think that’s the period that people get nostalgic about, and not just because the music was great. It’s tempting to fetishise the “sound of the streets” and want it to be socially conscious but there were factors at play, from the popularity of the Nation of Islam to old-fashioned bandwagon-jumping, that don’t exist now. Even Mos Def and Talib Kweli, when they first arrived, were marginal by comparison. You can still find political lyrics coming from artists as big as Jay-Z, Kanye and Lil Wayne but they’re not central to their identity in the same way they were to Public Enemy. But there are ways of exploring moral complexity and social problems without self-identifying as political. I think Kendrick Lamar’s last album engages with the problems of growing up poor and tempted by a life of crime with far more elegance and empathy than NWA ever did – he just doesn’t have a song like Fuck Tha Police to rally around.

SK: I really enjoyed the recent film Good Vibrations, not only because of Terri Hooley’s boundless enthusiasm for music, but because it was such a love-letter to those people in Northern Ireland who needed music to protest a life outside of the Troubles, to say that Belfast, or Derry, or wherever, should not only be synonymous with violence, unrest and pain – but creativity, fun, and good music – and The Undertones being played twice by John Peel – that “teenage dreams so hard to beat” still existed in the North. Music becomes a life force, a saviour – another example of art outweighing a lot of other concerns. What do you think?

DL: Absolutely. I tried to make clear in the book – but perhaps it could be clearer – that I was writing about explicit protest songs but there are countless other ways in which music can reflect its political context and respond to its listener’s needs, whether for escapism or catharsis. That was the message of the disco chapter.

SK: You have always been a very literary music writer – what is your relationship like to literature, and who are some of your favourite writers?

DL: Thank you! I’m not sure I see myself that way but I do try to keep the language and ideas interesting and I did study English Literature at university. Off the top of my head I like Philip Roth, F Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Conrad, Harold Pinter, Ibsen, Shelley, Larkin, Kazuo Ishiguro, John Dos Passos, Milan Kundera and Lorrie Moore. In terms of cultural journalism, Joan Didion, Robert Christgau, Jon Savage and Greil Marcus are all good at seeing the big picture as well as the details. And the biggest influence on the writing of 33rpm was Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland. He has a knack of making you feel as if you’re present at key historical events, his research is faultless and he has a sharp sense of humour.

SK: What do you think about musicians who say they don’t see songwriting as a “real” form of writing? For me, some of the greatest writers have been songwriters, the best language has its own rhythm, its own music – what do you think?

DL: Of course songwriting is real writing, just as poetry is. I don’t know why anyone would say it wasn’t. To pick a very recent example, the lyrics on the new Vampire Weekend album are as sharp and evocative as a novel.

SK: Where do you think protest music is right now? In terms of popular culture, you feel that in the sixties and seventies, the trickling into the mainstream seemed more real, more alive – now it seems more fragmented. Who are our great young protest singers now? Who are our brilliant minds in pop music?

DL: This is a topic for the event and too big for me to address here!

SK: I believe that David Margolick’s Strange Fruit was an interesting touchstone for your book – was it because of its placing the song so carefully in its political context, and its exploration of the variety of reactions? What was the most surprising thing for you, reading that book, and how do you think it has informed your own?

DL: That was the book that made me realise you could tell a huge story about a period in history by starting with just one song. If not for that I’m not sure I would have believed my book could work. And Strange Fruit was a natural starting point for me because of the tense collision of nightclub entertainment and brutally vivid subject matter.

SK: You formed a band when you were younger, what kind of music was it, was it based around a kind of incoherent protesting, or more coherent?

DL: Well we thought it was coherent! We were called Vida Loca – after the Love & Rockets comic book, not the Ricky Martin song that came along later – and our demo tape was called Apathy Kills. We wrote songs about the Iraq war, the LA riots and other early 90s topics. It was all rather gauche, and we shouldn’t have tried rapping, but it was fun and well-intentioned and I’m still quite proud of the way we used samples, albeit in a very primitive way.

SK: Who have been some of your favourite musicians to interview, and why?

DL: I’ve been lucky enough to conduct multiple interviews with Neil Tennant, Bono, Wayne Coyne, John Grant and the Manic Street Preachers. They’re all very different and some of them probably hate each other but each one is funny, clever, gracious and full of theories and ideas. It’s actually hard not to come away with a great interview. But most musicians are pleasant and interesting and some of those that aren’t, like Morrissey, are entertaining in their hostility.

SK: What are you watching, reading, and listening?

DL: Reading: Patrimony by Philip Roth

Watching: Mad Men, Parks and Recreation

Listening: New albums by Vampire Weekend, John Grant, Pet Shop Boys and These New Puritans. I’m also in a big Paul Simon phase.

Proust Questionnaire 9: Paul Lynch

Philip French at home his cinema room in London

This is not Paul Lynch, but I thought he wouldn’t mind, since like the great Philip French, he is also a film critic. Philip French recently retired from The Observer, and I will miss his writing a lot. If there is ever an opportunity to slot in reference to him, I will take it.

However, this is actually Paul Lynch –

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He is a film critic, and writer, and his debut novel Red Sky in Morning was recently released to great critical acclaim. He appears with Peter Murphy at Smock Alley tonight.

What is your idea of happiness?

Fresh fish off the pan by a cerulean sea, sharing a bottle of red wine with my lady.

Where would you most like to live?

At the moment, New York

What is your favourite virtue?

Honesty

What are your favourite qualities in a man?

The ability to chop down trees, to hunt and skin rabbits, to rebuild a car engine. None of which I possess.

What are your favourite qualities in a woman?

Can I speak of these here?

What do you most value in your friends?

That quality of timelessness, where you can pick up with a friend as if you had just been with them yesterday.

What is your biggest weakness?

Red wine and gin-based cocktails

What do you enjoy doing most?

Drinking red wine and gin-based cocktails

What is your most marked characteristic?

I would like to think my warm and generous personality, though those closest to me would probably say my intolerance of ignorance. Those who don’t know me would say my Byronic hair.

What is your idea of misery?

Having to read an awful book, or being without books at all.

If not yourself, who would you like to be?

When I get tired of being myself, I dream into my characters,

What is your favourite colour and flower?

I tend to wear a lot of black. Flower? The head-bowed, ephemeral bluebell.

What is your favourite bird?

The much-misunderstood magpie. In China they are a symbol of good-luck.

Who are your favourite writers?

This could be a long list: Saul Bellow, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Hilary Mantel, Flannery O’Connor, Vladimir Nabokov, WG Sebald, Juan Rulfo, Herman Melville, Charles Dickens. A new addition to the ever-expanding list is Roberto Bolano.

Who are your favourite poets?

John Milton, Seamus Heaney, Fernando Pessoa, TS Eliot, David Harsent, Gerard Manley Hopkins…

Who are your favourite artists?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I’ve been fortunate to see most of his masterpieces in the various museums.

Who are your favourite musicians?

John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Sviatoslav Richter, Kirk Hammet, Grant Green, Esbjorn Svensson…

Who are your favourite heroes and heroines in fiction?

I recently read Bolano’s 2666 and adored Benno von Archimboldi: the dedication to writing; the disregard for recognition; the fearlessness in art.

Who are the heroes and heroines in your life?

That generation of writers — the likes of Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Pynchon — who eschewed publicity, interviews, book tours, and Proustian questionnaires, and just got on with the writing.

Who are your favourite heroes and heroines in history?

Any writers or thinkers who have dealt with head-on and fearlessly with what it means to be alive outside of the dream of religion.

What is your favourite food and drink?

Fois gras slabbed on top of a rib-eye steak with a glass of super-Tuscan red wine. Nom nom.

What are your favourite names?

If I ever have a daughter I am going to call her Alice-Eve

What do you most dislike?

Sloppiness. If you are going to do the job, DIFR*.

(* do it f__king right).

Which historical figures do you most dislike?

The neoplatonists. They set us up for a 1,500-year rule of mystical ignorance.

What event in history do you most admire?

The first man or woman who drank that fermented juice. What a moment!

What social movement do you most admire?

I would have to say the feminist movement. Though I think we can all move on now and embrace equalism. Men have it hard too, you know.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?

I would love to be able to play the piano or paint.

How would you like to die?

Peacefully.

What is your present state of mind?

Anxious and excited. I have begun writing my third book.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

Waiters who take an order without writing it down. I’m sorry mate, but you are going to get something wrong.

Which fault in others do you most easily tolerate?

I do my best to take a mindful attitude to the people in my life. This is a work in progress.

Which fault in yourself do you most easily tolerate?

My almost complete unawareness of mess. My inability to do DIY and gardening. The fact that I can’t drive (yet). My ability to be lost in my head while others are talking to me.

What is your motto?

Ostinato rigore! It comes from Leonardo da Vinci and means, more or less, don’t stop until it is right.

(SK)