Here is my last review of the Essar Chester Literature Festival and, coincidentally, my last review for Chester Culture. In the hot seat on Friday night was the inestimable Mark Lawson discussing his new novel ‘The Deaths’ and just about anything else. The *self-interview format* made this a tricky review, but here goes nowt.
As we took our seats, my wife mentioned that she was missing Front Row to listen to this talk.
Mark Lawson has had quite a career. He works, and excels, in radio, television and journalism. He is a lot taller than I imagined. This was going to be good.
Mark kicked off (sorry) with a telling anecdote about Sir Alex Ferguson. He is one of the six people who’ve walked out on Mark during an interview. It transpires that Mark inadvertently labelled Sir Alex a homosexual by describing his watch-tapping gesture as *theatrical*. Apparently, this is slang for ‘gay’ in Glasgow or at least it is in the Ferguson household. It’s probably a generational thing…
Onto the talk…
Mark took the bold and rather clever step of turning this talk into a self-interview. Eight frequently-asked questions, each one in a brown envelope. Audience members volunteered to ask the questions.
It’s been eight years since your last novel, why has it taken so long?
Mark Lawson is the unluckiest novelist in the world. He has abandoned three separate novels in the last eight years. A chance meeting with the daughter of a famous US Author meant the end of ‘faction’ book. He discovered that another author had already written a very similar novel on creative writing. Finally, another author revealed he was writing the same book, about a French composer, during an interview on Front Row.
Did you have to do a lot of research for the novel or is it autobiographical?
The Deaths is about a man who murders his entire family!
Mark explained that he went to great lengths to make sure the characters were in no way autobiographical. After reading the book, his mother said it’s a shame you wished us and your sister dead. Damned if you do…
Some reviewers, even those that like the book, say all the characters are horrible. Was this deliberate?
This was not deliberate. This was about the need for balance. Unlike television, there’s no need for a viewer’s friend. Mark doesn’t want you to be friends with the characters, to be judgmental. There is no black and white here. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things.
Why does coffee feature so frequently throughout the book?
At some point Britain become overnight Italy, Mark wanted to reflect that.
Why is the book written in the present tense?
This is something that Mark usually hates, but it was right for this book and how it unfolds. The murders have yet to happen; we approach these murders as the characters do.
The character Simon is addicted to internet porn. Why did you give him this addiction?
This was the campaign element to the book. There is a culture of porn among teenagers, which shapes their view of sex, of expectation, and that is dangerous.
You do a lot of other things, is this a help or hindrance when writing a novel?
Writing in other fields and formats, especially the radio, helps with exposition, balance and plot. The eight-year’s wait suggests that it is a hindrance too.
Do you get more publicity for your books as you work for the BBC?
This is a double edged sword. It’s definitely easier to get a book in front of people, but like his mentor Melvyn Bragg, he cannot have his work mentioned or discussed on Radio 4. They are the only people who this applies too. Bummer.
The Q&A session…
Which person did you like the most or who surprised you the most?
Not surprisingly, Mark’s heroes were among his favourites, such as John Updike. There’s the realisation you’re in the presence of a genius, an original mind, like Thomas Hetherwick and Neil Gaiman. Knowing that the interviewee will have a place in history, like Seamus Heaney. The most surprising was Dizzie Rascal. Funny, very clever, it was completely unexpected.
Tell us more about the infamous Russell Crowe/Robin Hood interview…
Is it the interviewer’s role to sell whatever product the interviewee has on offer or to reveal something of their personality? Thankfully, Mr Lawson believes in the latter.
Mr Crowe was eight hours late. He was angry at flying solo as the director and his co-star were absent. He was smoking and emanating malevolence, such that no one dared ask him to stop. Our hero, perhaps tired, perhaps miffed, asked the killer question: why the Irish accent? Russell then revealed something of his personality. There’s a happy ending, too. At a party some time later, Mark met Crowe’s former make-up artist, who gave him a massive hug.
The best talk so far. Fact.