literary podcasts from Bookoccino

Lionel Shriver, in conversation for Bookoccino

September 13, 2019 Season 2019 Episode 1
literary podcasts from Bookoccino
Lionel Shriver, in conversation for Bookoccino
Chapters
literary podcasts from Bookoccino
Lionel Shriver, in conversation for Bookoccino
Sep 13, 2019 Season 2019 Episode 1
bookoccino
Bestselling author Lionel Shriver in conversation with Helen McCabe
Show Notes Transcript

Bookoccino welcomed Lionel Shriver, the renowned iconoclast and bestselling author, back to Australian shores on September 1. In this episode, Lionel discusses the furore surrounding her last visit, her views on artistic licence in literature and her concerns about hyperbole and alarmist attitudes with Future Women founder Helen McCabe. 
Please go to our website for details on upcoming events, online shopping and more. 



Speaker 1:
0:00
We are very proud to have you here at [inaudible] for your first appearance back in Australia. So how does it feel to be back in Australia?
Speaker 2:
0:09
Well, nobody's hit me over the head with a hammer. Yeah.
Speaker 1:
0:13
Yeah. It was um, quite a spectacular, um, speech that you gave and fall out more to the point. Um, are you expecting to relive that fall out during your time here or do you think the world's moved on?
Speaker 2:
0:34
I mean, it's true that I get, uh, asked more than I wish about the issue of cultural appropriation, which was the central topic of that speech. Uh, and, but, uh, mercifully I have elsewhere had been a wound to address other topics on occasion and um, it's only coming back here that I have had to rehearse some of that. Um, one of the frustrations is, uh, I don't want to be blind and assume that you are all familiar with this speech, but one of the frustrations of being attached to this issue is that, uh, I don't think it's worth our time, not just my time, but your time. It's a, it's a concept that I don't think is, is viable. I don't think it's generous. This whole idea is that, uh, we own our own cultures and, um, people have to ask our permission to help themselves to our, our traditions or what our lives are like.
Speaker 2:
1:38
It's a completely antithetical to the, the spirit of fiction, if nothing else. Uh, and also the spirit of a successful society. You know, you don't want to live in a place where people were pig piggy ING their experience to themselves and you can't have it. I, it's hard enough to understand each other. So a fiction is ideally a vehicle for that, that, and, uh, we fiction writers don't always do the best of jobs. It trying to imagine what it's like to be someone different from ourselves. But, uh, I think it's a laudable project and to be encouraged. And, uh, the, the end result of taking this notion of cultural appropriation to heart is that, uh, writers just stay in their own little cocoons and write about, uh, people just like them or ideally, you know, just about themselves. And, uh, which, you know what, enough writers do that already.
Speaker 2:
2:44
They don't need to be encouraged. Uh, it's just such a ridiculous concept. And, um, you know, if you, if you call it cultural appreciation, I think that's more accurate. I think that's, we need to be encouraging. And it's just that word appropriation, uh, which, uh, makes it seem, uh, makes extending yourself to someone else's life seem as if it's a form of theft. And I just reject that that out of hand. And I think it's so transparently unviable as a taboo that, uh, I Rue the, I Rue the fact that I have personally spent so much time, uh, knocking it as a concept and I, and also spent a, a collective amount of audience time. Uh, the, uh, the main shock of, of the speech I gave was that it was that when I said, what is the shock? I thought, in fact, my worry when I, uh, before I gave the speech was that it would be boring because I thought what I was saying was so social self evident.
Speaker 2:
3:58
And that was before, uh, cultural appropriation had really installed itself as some kind of taboo and fiction. It had most recently at that time been a problem with the fashion industry, you know, some, a white model wearing dreadlocks or uh, or someone wearing a kimono no, or a designer taking off on a kimono when and that was stealing, you know, and I was concerned that this could possibly spread to fiction and uh, and but I, I thought, you know, certainly as it applied to fiction, it was, it would potentially make the occupation impossible. Uh, and I just thought, well, that's obvious and I never expected that speech to get so much stick. I still don't understand it. Then
Speaker 1:
4:55
what will it sort of, it's sort of morphed in a quite quickly into other things. And it sort of, it became an issue around writers, festivals and whether you can say things that people don't like. And we had a big debate in Australia subsequently around. So you can't say things people don't like, you can't say anything. And we had, we had writers that were dropped from festivals because organizers decided that they were too controversial. So the, the, the, what you started kind of morphed into, into other issues. Richard Flanagan, I, he came out in defense and in quite spectacular form and he said something like, anyone who was appeared at a writer's festival knows organizers are grateful if a writer turns up on time and sober. What, what's happened is writers festivals,
Speaker 2:
5:49
well, it's bigger than writers festivals. It has to do with the larger cultural cowardice and, and, uh, which installs itself is institutional cowardice. Uh, this whole notion of safe spaces and, uh, that words are a form of violence. Uh, we've, we're now afraid of words. We're, we're, we're afraid of ideas. And you know, the identity politics crowd seems to have success. Sex successfully installed, uh, in ethos whereby, um, to, to subject someone to an opinion with which they disagree is a form of assault. And a, in which case I'm all for assault. Uh, for some reason we seem to have now demonized the very idea of having dialogue, of, of having an interchange of ideas, of, of being able to disagree with one another. And these are, of course, fundamentals of democratic societies. So, you know, ultimately the, this movement is, I, I, I'm sorry to throw around what sounds like hyperbole, but its end endpoint is fascistic because it's about control. It's about silence, it's about obedience. It's about conformism. It's about an imposing, a way of thinking. And, and, and also, uh, what one can and cannot say in very strict ways, uh, on everybody. And that just, I can't tell you how that rubs me constitutionally the wrong way. And when people tell me things that I can't do, I want to do them.
Speaker 2:
7:45
And I, what would I find most mysterious is why, given the kind of person that is traditionally attracted to becoming writers, why are more of my colleagues not also having the same response? And basically it's a fuck you response and it's healthy. And it's, um, one of the reasons that people become writers is, you know, you control your own world, especially fiction writers, right? You say that's one of the things that's exhilarating about the, uh, about the craft. In fact, I S S I am sometimes get that cliche of, you know, uh, Oh, don't you find that sometimes your characters have a life of their own? And I say absolutely not. They do what they're told.
Speaker 2:
8:38
So can I just be 100% clean? There's nothing in a speech, or did it by afterwards that you would have changed from, Oh yeah, no, I would have changed the way it was reported. Um, look, one of the things that rubs these super serious the wrong way is having a sense of humor. They, they take, they take this stuff so seriously. Anything that comes anywhere near diversity or race or anything, it has to be really careful and really sober sided. And that speech is not sober, cited it as a, a lightness I had besides which, you know, these intro speeches to festivals. I mean, I don't understand why anybody showed up. They're usually extremely tedious. And so I tried to, you know, make it worth 40 minutes of these people's time. And, um, and that's against the rules because with this material, you're not supposed to be able to make a joke.
Speaker 2:
9:40
But yeah. And, and, uh, I stand by all of it, including the more serious parts. I think the, um, the section or the part, the, the speech would have, which has probably received the less, at least attention is the part that I've ended up expounding on in other, um, speeches and in, uh, in S in essays. And that has to do with the very idea of what identity is. And after all, we're talking about it all the time. It identity politics. So presumably it's about identity. Well, my, my difference with this movement comes down to the very definition of that word. And, uh, according to this way of thinking, uh, my identity is being white. And, you know, that just doesn't, doesn't do anything for me. Um, and, and, and if I were to go around saying, well, you know, the most important thing to be for me about myself is that I'm white, what would you think?
Speaker 2:
10:46
Well, I hope you think rather it'll have me. So I feel that way about all the other races too. I do not believe race or gender or sexual, uh, proclivity is an identity of any sort. In fact, it was interesting to watch the, um, the was being engaged movement over the past several decades, really mature because there was a period, uh, when it, you know, when, as a liberation movement, it was just getting started that it seemed very clear that being gay was enough. It was so, it took a lot of bravery. Um, and it was an identity for a lot of people who were gay. That's what they were, they were gay. And, uh, in its maturity, you don't see that anymore. And I don't think that between, um, gay or lesbians themselves, you know, they're interested in individual people. They want to be with individual people who have other interests than being gay.
Speaker 2:
11:58
And yeah. So my idea of identity is, is something that throughout your wife is constantly evolving. It is a lifelong project. Uh, and it encompasses everything about you. It may have elements of what, what you were born into and you didn't have any choice. But that's just a start. I mean, I'm, for example, yes, I was born female, but that doesn't do anything for me either. Um, and I make a kind of crap girl. I live with it, but I'm not that interested in, um, feminist causes. I'm, I guess I still call myself a feminist. I mean, what's the alternative? But I, I don't think that in my deepest self that is me alone in the room, just thinking, I don't think of myself as female, especially. Uh, so I don't believe that the self is necessarily has a gender any more than the self. And I mean in that, I hope, you know what I mean, that really core way of your sense of yourself when it's just you and you. I don't think it has a gender. I don't think it has a race.
Speaker 3:
13:15
Uh,
Speaker 2:
13:16
and, and to me, identity means most of all that sense of yourself in a room by yourself. And then otherwise, you know the things about yourself that you accumulate along the way. What you decide you care about, who you love, who are your friends, um, what do you, what do you decide you don't care about, which is sometimes is as important. And that to me, that's identity. And that's interesting. You know, character is interesting and the way we change and the way we were fine ourselves or sometimes slip backwards,
Speaker 3:
13:54
uh, [inaudible]
Speaker 2:
13:55
that's just fascinating. And that's my work. So the tell me that identity comes down to these little boxes that we were born into or that we put each other in. Well that's just, it's depressing and it's also politically regressive. So I resist the whole notion that what defines us are these groups we're, we're a member of and, and what order we're in, in the social hierarchy. And I, I find that a very grim, ugly, flat way of looking at the world.
Speaker 3:
14:38
You, uh,
Speaker 4:
14:39
yeah. [inaudible] I've heard you talk before about about
Speaker 2:
14:46
being an eight year old and how seminal that period in your life was you decided
Speaker 1:
14:52
then to give up, uh, your parents faith. They were your father with a Presbyterian, uh, and you decided to change your name. You went from [inaudible].
Speaker 2:
15:02
Yeah, I guess I did. That one didn't stick though. I first changed my name to Tony. Well, I have to, I have to know why Lionel. Um, I, and I'm finally, when I was 15, I was always trying to get rid of my name. I hated my name. And that's the simplest explanation for my name. Um, it was Margaret. It was Margaret and I at home. I was [inaudible], well, cold toe. I was called the whole double barrel. Oh. Cause my, Margaret Ann's in the audience. I just asked you, do I seem like a Margaret? And I do sometimes wonder how differently my life would have gone if I hadn't changed my name. I mean, I just, I just think if you put Margaret and Shriver on that bookstore poster on book and Chino, you wouldn't be here.
Speaker 2:
15:52
So you went with Tony. Um, that was my first attempt to get rid of Margaret, Dan, and then [inaudible] we moved city when I was 15, and that was my opportunity. Um, and I changed it very early on in our arrival in, uh, in Atlanta, which is where we'd moved to and therefore it was possible to train people. And I mean, I, and I was clued up enough to realize that if I really wanted to ditch the Margaret and I had to pick an alternative and stick with it. So that's what I did. And I, I never, I never changed it again. And it's, it's ended up being kind of cool because, uh, and I could, couldn't conceivably have anticipated this, but in the internet era, Oh. And, uh, of course I came of age way before that. Uh, it turns out there aren't any other Lionel Shriver's well done. I mean, my husband's name is Jeff Williams and his, his Google searches are always getting messed up with all these other ordinary people. Um, so it's, it's a convenience. It's an [inaudible]. It's a search engine convenience.
Speaker 1:
17:08
Um, you've said, um, that you like writing about characters who are different and think things which are unacceptable. Why do you like writing about things that are unacceptable?
Speaker 2:
17:22
Well, maybe a better question is why would I want to write about people who thought about the acceptable? I mean, it's, you need to bring characters out in relief. Uh, so the acceptable is often as not very not very interesting or if you want to, there's another way of making the acceptable interesting. After all, Kevin does that right by the last page, the narrator announces that she loves her son. Now, there wouldn't have been a book if we started that way on the first page. So maybe, maybe you need to get a character finally to what is more traditional, what we accept, what is considered normal. But it has to be hard to get there. Kevin is truly exceptional piece of work and so haunting and Vince, so powerful. Um, what is the most common thing women say to you about that book? Which, what is the bit that touched people the most in your experience? Talking to them about it?
Speaker 2:
18:40
Well, I've talked to a lot of people who were mothers or parents because there are plenty of male readers for that novel also. And I think for some reason people were really sick of a romanticized nation of Parenthood. And it was just, it wasn't just, you know, Oh, here's the most extreme example of so that the kid ends up being a, um, a school killer. It was, it was all the little stuff leading up to it that people responded so much to, um, the trials of Parenthood recognition that it is possible to not like your own kid. And I think parents do sometimes it's often just a phase or even a moment, a moment that you don't like your own kid. But that, and that happens in marriages too. Uh, but it was a relief to read about a more realistic version of what it's really like to be a parent and to sometimes be exasperated or furious or bored, you know, by my mother finds being around a toddler all day, uh, dull and, and it's, and feels guilty about finding it dome because you know, the propaganda out there is always telling you how fascinating you're supposed to find it to be down in the floor flame with trucks.
Speaker 2:
20:19
I just doubted that. Um, so that was, I think that was the main, okay. Oh, do you get many women saying, um, I'm really grateful because I was weighing the decision to have children and you [inaudible] uh, talk me out of it. Yes. Does that happen? Yeah. It has a little deal. I feel a little guilty about the decreasing fertility. Right,
Speaker 4:
20:49
right. In the Western world.
Speaker 2:
20:52
Um, though, you know, I've also heard couples said, we were thinking about having children. We had a lot of anxieties. Both of us reading this book made it possible for us to talk about those anxieties. And we did go ahead and have a kid. Uh, your book made us incredibly grateful for the kid we got instead of
Speaker 4:
21:18
the one we did.
Speaker 2:
21:22
Yeah. I mean, and I, that's gratifying. Yeah.
Speaker 1:
21:25
How much, um, time did you put into thinking about this character and this concept again? I've heard you say previously that um, you decided very early in your life that you didn't want to have children and that you use this as an examination of that, a sense about your own, um, destiny in that regard.
Speaker 2:
21:46
I mean, yeah, I was in my early forties and I had, I could still have kids if I wanted them and I, I hadn't really thought hard about it. Uh, and so I used the book for my own evil purposes and by the time I finished it I realized I shouldn't have any children.
Speaker 4:
22:05
Yeah.
Speaker 1:
22:07
Well you like so many women in their forties sick of being asked about when you're having children.
Speaker 2:
22:11
You know, I was, I was not especially pressured to have kids. And my mother actually took me aside because I got together with my then partner rather late in the day. And she warned me that, um, you know, if you have any children, it has a tremendous relationship on, on your relationship. It has, you know, be careful. She did not mean it had a really great effect. Uh, I mean, I don't think that that kind of warning effected me one way or another. I, uh, not only I do, I not OB, uh, identity politics activists, but I certainly didn't obey my parents, so, but I made a note of it. I thought that was interesting for any budding publishes in, um, authors in the room. You, you were turned down by 30 publishes that was in the UK, in the UK, and then 2020 agents in the U S wow. Does that, how do you feel about that? Like what, what did you think at the time and what do you think now? Um, at the time I thought my life was over and now I think, huh?
Speaker 4:
23:25
You'd be [inaudible]
Speaker 1:
23:33
you've lived in Nairobi, Bangkok, and Belfast. Which do you like the least of those three places that you've lived in?
Speaker 2:
23:42
Oh, Bangkok. Yeah. Yeah. Really, really dirty, terrible traffic. There's no contest. Good food. What took you to all three of those destinations? Um, no, I wrote Nairobi. Uh, it was a gang control, which somebody asked me to sign just a few minutes ago.
Speaker 5:
24:07
Um,
Speaker 2:
24:09
I've never worked harder on the book and sold fewer copies. Uh, and, uh, Bangkok was actually, my partner was writing a book about, um, Vietnam veterans who had ended up staying in Southeast Asia. And I just tagged along,
Speaker 5:
24:28
um, [inaudible]
Speaker 2:
24:30
I was failing to sell a book at the time and, and, and, and, and failing to sell a book doesn't really fill your day. So I went with him and it was an interesting time, a Belfast. However, I lived, uh, in for 12 years. I were originally went there to write my third novel, ordinary, decent criminals, uh, and then stuck around. Um, I became Belfast the thing that wouldn't leave. So, and I ended up getting cutting my journalistic teeth in, in Belfast because, uh, my first opinion pieces were for the wall street journal about Northern Irish politics. I did, um, for several years. I, um, I did a three minute editorial for, uh, calling radio show on the BBC. So those were, those were truly formative years and I still have a lot of affection for Belfast.
Speaker 1:
25:31
You have had an incredible journalism career as well. And in the mandibles you do touch on, I think you even, I think you even said that the New York times is, has closed by the time you cast forward into 20, 40, or whatever, where the band levels are set. That right. If you go, you said God breast it did pretty much get rid of it. You did kill it off. Yes. Um,
Speaker 2:
25:54
tell me Z, it's just an awesome power.
Speaker 1:
25:59
I think it's, I think it's undergoing a slight revival though, isn't it? In actual,
Speaker 2:
26:02
well, Trump is the best thing that ever happened in the New York times. Yeah.
Speaker 1:
26:05
Yeah. Um, what are your observations about mainstream media at the moment in journalism and is it still difficult to, uh, get published and, uh, read or are you an optimist about the way? Uh,
Speaker 2:
26:19
do you want the media to talk about journalism or fiction? Okay. Well, I, I do find it upsetting what's happening to a lot of legacy media. Um, I am distressed that a lot of very fine journalists are either losing their jobs or having to live on a ludicrously reduced salary. Um, and that's one thing that I, one reason I put that into the mandibles, uh, which takes place in, um, starting in 2029 is that I, you know, that's a book about everything I'm afraid of about the future. And one of the things that I'm really afraid of is the loss of newspapers. I do suspect that it is within the decade. We probably will be beyond the physical newspaper. And I'm going to miss that. I'm know that's gonna make me seem like a terrible what I, but, uh, I read a physical newspaper differently than I do an online.
Speaker 2:
27:26
Have you noticed that? And I read a physical newspaper much more thoroughly. I discover lots of articles that end up being dead interesting that I didn't know I was interested in. Um, I'm much more likely online to just look at headlines. Uh, and I've, for some reason I'm just overall more impatient online. Uh, even an article, I'll start. It's like, eh, and it turns, you know, but if I, if I had the actual newspaper with me, um, I'm, I don't know why, but I'm more likely to read the whole thing and often discover two thirds of the way down that the most interesting thing was a sort of signed thing that was later in the article. You know, how that works. And so even if a lot of these very articles end up surviving in a digital digital form, I think there will be a loss.
Speaker 2:
28:25
And, uh, I S I am glad to see the, uh, the firewall becoming more commonplace. I think it's an absolute must that publications that are, that, that plan to survive, start charging for, uh, for news. I think the public has to be retrained to go back to paying for news. And that's something that I'm really willing to, to put money out there for. And I'm afraid that young people are not, not accustomed to that. Uh, I blame the guardian among other things. And I do blame the guardian. Uh, they, they have a vanity about themselves cause they love all those clicks. They love the fact that they get all this international attention. One of the main reasons they get all this international attention is free. So, uh, if they can, if they really had self-respect, they'd start charging because, uh, this is not a longterm business model, you know, pay a lot of money to make something and give it away for nothing. See how long that's gonna last with any product. So, you know, yeah, I'm really, really worried and I think you do paint
Speaker 1:
29:42
a very alarming picture in the manuals about just as it's already happening of course, is that dissemination of information. It's all wrong and you just pick up bits and pieces and, but you did it in a very, um, compelling way. Um, I want to talk a little bit about politics. You, uh, mentioned Trump. Um, I know our previous interviewers made the mistake of thinking that you are pro Trump, but, uh, please, what is your view of the president of the United States?
Speaker 2:
30:16
Discuss, discuss. Okay. Well I pause partly because there's nothing more tedious for than, uh, some, you know, American Democrat going on and on about how horrible Trump is. We're tired of it. Right.
Speaker 5:
30:32
Um,
Speaker 2:
30:35
Debbie journalist asked me this on the way up in the car on the way from Byron Bay. So, um, it wasn't, Byron Bay was from Sydney. Sorry. Um,
Speaker 2:
30:50
and this is what I said. So I'll just repeat myself. Um, I am more concerned about the fact that Trump is in competent than that. He is immoral. He, um, he doesn't know what he's doing. He doesn't know what the laws are. He doesn't know how government works. He doesn't know anything about the rest of the world. He's constantly, constantly going to countries. And I, you know, I'm surprised he even remembers what they're called. Uh, I do not dismiss outright the possibility that he is on in the early stages of dementia. You know, that was a popular viewpoint earlier in his administration. And I haven't let go of it cause I've seen, um, interviews with him when he was younger and he was, he was already very arrogant and full of himself, but he could speak in a complete sentence. He's different now, but I consider that in competence much more dangerous than, uh, just his being malicious.
Speaker 2:
32:04
I am not that concerned with his being a racist or misogynist. I am concerned that he is stupid and that he's ignorant. And Andy, he's erratic. He doesn't care about anybody else but himself. I've sometimes even wonder if he cares about himself. And I, I think he's a very dangerous man. I think it's dangerous for the world as well as for the United States. I am enormously relieved, made it this far, and I've got my fingers crossed that we can get through to 2020 now. And I'm also extremely concerned that the Democrats are gonna make a mistake. I mean, I think there's a, there is a, a watt at stake, uh, and four more years of that guy could do immeasurable harm to the U S I think that we can recover from him after four. I'm really worried about what's going to be left to the country after eight and God knows what he's gonna do the rest of the world.
Speaker 2:
33:12
But if the Democrats end up selecting a, a candidate who is wildly to the weft of most of the population, uh, they could easily lose this election. And it just dismays me. You know, you take a look at the entire field and what a field it is. And the reason Biden's out in front is he's the only moderate of the bunch. Now he's not an ideal choice and he is too old and he does make a lot of gaffs factual gaps. You know, he can't, his memory is not very good. His politics are okay. Nothing to get excited about. He'd probably be a reasonable safe bet, but I wish they'd come up with somebody else somewhat, a little younger who didn't scare the bejesus out of the, the centrists in the country who are still going to end up making the difference as to who, who wins the election.
Speaker 1:
34:13
And are you, uh, expecting that Trump probably will get reelected?
Speaker 2:
34:19
I was so wildly out, uh, on, on in 2016 along, I had a lot of company, but I was in Southeast Asia at the time. Poncing around reassuring audiences that Trump would never win, relax. That plays in my head sometimes. Um, so I'm not making any predictions. I know it's possible for him to win. It is possible.
Speaker 1:
34:49
The bit that I find very interesting is the inability for many people and people that have an understanding of the political, um, landscape and, uh, of the popular vote that still can't quite understand how and why he won. Do you have a, a view?
Speaker 2:
35:12
Oh, I'm not sure. It's very interesting. Um, you know, Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate.
Speaker 1:
35:21
Uh,
Speaker 2:
35:25
I was ambivalent about Hillary myself. I didn't like the fact that, uh, we were, we were nominating wife of a former president. It was odd that it was so under discussed because it was the biggest elephant in the room, right? I mean, why did we know her surname? And it, I didn't think it looked good for women, for the first female president of the United States to get there on her husband's coattails. And she wasn't, you know, she's not a natural politician. She's not very appealing now, uh, if she's had to take a lot of stick and people been very mean about her and I don't want to bandwagon on that. I, I just don't think she, she, she comes across as all that appealing up here. And, and I, I'm actually very sympathetic with that. I know what it's like to be in front of a crowd, not in the kind of crowds that she had faced.
Speaker 2:
36:34
Uh, but it's hard and, and it's also hard to be appealing, you know, to be likable. It's hard to know what that entails. Um, but she was still the wrong person to run in in 2016. It was, it was the old guard of the democratic party and it was, you know, the understanding was it was her turn and I just project out of hand. This whole notion of turn at the same thing happened in the U K when Tony Blair stepped down and handed it on to the Gordon Brown and it was his turn. Well, he was a terrible prime minister and he should just never have been prime minister. Nevermind his term. It's, it's, it's not, it's not for these people to, to hand over these offices. It's for us to choose those. It's antique. It's ultimately in spirit. It's anti-democratic. So I mean, that's why I take it so seriously. What happens 2020 because anyone should have been able to defeat him. I mean, he was, he seems to be getting even worse. But even at the time he was obviously a fool and uh, and unqualified for the office. It was, it was, it was transparent. How do you feel about Boris Johnson?
Speaker 2:
37:57
Okay. There's no comparison. Trump is an idiot and I really mean he's, he's, his IQ is medically low. Sure. And then add to that willful ignorance. Uh, Boris Johnson is extremely bright. He's very well educated. Uh, he'd never make any of the kind of, uh, foot and mouth crap that, that Trump has now. He's, he's made the odd error. And, uh, in a, in an instance or two, it's been a pretty grievous error. So, you know, one of the things is that these, in these polarized times, it is very easy to get trapped into defending a position or a person, 100% because you know, you have to fight this corner because the other corners opposed against you. And, and I don't feel the need to, you know, I have to remind myself, but I don't feel the need to defend everything that Boris Johnson has ever said or written or done.
Speaker 2:
39:03
He's made his mistakes and he may not be the best prime minister that the UK has ever had, but he's probably a pretty good choice for right now. The thing that I admire most of all about his history, especially, uh, when he was mayor of London is that, you know, it's possible he has a lazy side, but it works out well for him because he knows how to delegate power and he knows how to find people who know what they're talking about and who are competent. And, you know, the most important thing aside from personal competence is the ability to recognize competence in others. And he has that so, and so far I think he's done a very good job. I've obviously, he's, he's barely been in the office, so the vote's still out. And, uh, what happens, uh, in the lead up to, uh, Brexit or, or whatever happens, uh, will certainly be the, the, the test of him. But I wish him the best. And I resent the constantly parallels with Trump. I don't, I, I really don't think they're fair. I think they're heavily based on hairstyle.
Speaker 2:
40:12
I wish it weren't a joke, but it really is. Um, and I, and all, it's heavily based on the, uh, constant pairing of the phenomenon of Trump and the phenomenon of Brexit. And I reject that out of hand. I really don't think they have anything to do with each other. Uh, changing the topic a little bit, your, uh, your, um, day, your famous for being a night owl. You go to bed at around the, let you say what time it is. It varies a little, but, uh, usually three 30 or four. I am a M yeah. So how do you spend your day? It's not interesting. I just look, she asked not being critical. Um, but uh, I just wanna warn you. It's not interesting. I have an absolutely normal Workday. It just starts later than yours and ends later than yours. So I get up and I read the paper, see, are you bored yet to my email, do my work, get some exercise and make dinner at 11 o'clock at night.
Speaker 2:
41:27
We usually eat around midnight. Yeah. Why? What's the, what's the, I don't know why. Yeah. You know, I've read that there really is something genetic about this morning person versus night owl. And if night owl has a gene, I've got it in spades and I, no matter where you put me on the planet, sooner or later, I will start keeping to the same schedule. Right now it's kind of eerie because having done that, uh, the trip, the trip from New York to Australia, uh, I got on an early schedule and I'm trying to keep it and just, it's kind of thrilling. I didn't know what the light was like at six 30. I got up at six 30 this morning. It was like, wow. So, you know, it's, to me it's, it's kind of freaky.
Speaker 1:
42:23
You're also a, um, spirit, uh, committed exerciser. You [inaudible]
Speaker 2:
42:29
cycle a lot and run [inaudible] good. Okay. We'll move on. That. Not interesting either.
Speaker 1:
42:41
Um, the mandibles, uh, it's a futuristic novel, uh, tackling, um, you know, so many big picture issues, uh, particularly the collapse of the financial systems. Um, what motivated you to go into that space and do you have genuine concerns that that is, uh, what we're headed towards?
Speaker 2:
43:05
Yes, I have genuine concerns and it's true that I didn't use to be interested in economics to tall. Um, but then 2008 happened and 2008 was nefariously timed as far as I was concerned because I only got any money to speak of in 2007. Thanks a lot. So not only did I lose some of what I had, but I was abruptly introduced to the ugly truth that there's only one thing harder than earning money and that's keeping it, it is actually really hard to keep money to keep value. And, um, I worked really hard to get to the point in my wife. I used to live on practically nothing to get through the point in my life that I actually had some assets and then, and then to suddenly enter this turbulent time where all bets were off. And uh, you never knew whether the, you know, we came awfully close to the entire international monetary system, collapsing, the major banks just collapsing.
Speaker 2:
44:27
And, uh, so we, we pulled back from the brink, but the, the fundamentals that brought us to that breaker are the same. It hasn't changed. And, uh, so one of the things that impelled me to write the mandibles was looking at the scenario whereby what we narrowly avoided in 2008 actually happened. And you know, as an, as an intellectual and, uh, imaginative exercise, it was fascinating. And furthermore, it gave me reason to involve myself in a world that I had never really concern myself with, which is, you know, the world of economics, which it turns out is dead fascinating. And it's this, one of the things that's nice about my occupation is that I can become serially fascinated with, uh, a whole new field. And then if I like, leave it behind and gets the ass unaided with something else. But this, uh, this, you know, especially recently writing and economics is apocalyptic.
Speaker 2:
45:34
It's about the end of the world. It really is. A lot of these economics books are, are talking about the collapse of civilization. And it really made me think, I mean, one of the things that I, I try to imagine is how difficult it is to survive for, especially in a city when your currency is no longer functional. You know, and that's, that's what the likes of Venezuela has to deal with right now. You know, their F their currency doesn't work. It doesn't actually have any value. And when you live in a society that, that functions through the exchange of currency, nothing works. And, uh, it's really quite frightening. So, you know, I found that I found that eras fictionally irresistible and, and really exciting. I've, I've, I know that it's all about, uh, terrible things happening, but I can't remember having, having had a better time than when I wrote the mandibles. Well, they said the, um, the gun gun laws, for example, your, um, pro reform of gun laws and yet this process gave you a different perspective. Oh, yes, yes. I mean, yeah, I'm one of those, uh,
Speaker 5:
47:08
uh,
Speaker 2:
47:09
liberals who would have more restrictive gun rows and more background checks and is not too sure about the U S second amendment, et cetera.
Speaker 5:
47:20
Um,
Speaker 2:
47:22
but that's true. The weird thing about writing about the collapse of civilization is the coming around to the grim realization that there is one thing that you would want more than any other thing in that circumstance. And that's a gun. So there is a point in the plot where this, uh, you know, hitherto very liberal family
Speaker 4:
47:50
gets a gun and
Speaker 2:
47:54
it was, it was a little painful, right. But it had an exert in inexorability about it.
Speaker 4:
48:03
Okay.
Speaker 1:
48:04
Uh, I am going to open it up to questions now. I think we're only going to take five, so I'll give you a minute just to think about it. And while I do that, I'm going to ask you about Australian authors. Do you follow any Australian authors? Like any authors in particular at the moment? I've heard you talk about Amy bloom. Um, is there anyone that you recommend?
Speaker 2:
48:25
Is Amy Blum Australia? No, she's not, but I think so. Sorry. Well that really fucked me up. She's already up. She's a friend of mine. She's been hiding that accent pretty well. Um, I mean I like, I like it. Richard Flanagan. Yeah, this is the kind of put me on the spot that I never do well on because actually when anybody asks me what writers I like, I can't think of any. Obviously I watch a lot of TV. Um, yeah, that's the only, there are a number of other people that I have read. Um, and I'm not remembering their names. Can you throw a few at me?
Speaker 1:
49:07
Well that's why I threw, I mean Glen, cause I heard you talk, talk about what houses and how well you thought that piece, that piece of work came together. Yes, yes, yes. Um, questions just again. Yes. What you might,
Speaker 2:
49:29
well I have a new book coming out, uh, this coming spring. Uh, it's finished and it's about the cult of exercise. In some ways it's taking aim at myself. Um, and yeah, it's, it, it, it is a jaundice. Look at our, our having become
Speaker 4:
49:55
over, uh,
Speaker 2:
50:02
we have over elevated it. To me, I think it's, it's a mechanical business and it's important to get your blood running and, and uh, yeah, but it's not, it's not the purpose of life. It's it, it's to keep your body going so you can do something else. Please. Um, and uh, I'll be interested to how it does in Australia because I have all the Western countries I've been to, I think this, this one is more obsessed with exercise than any other going to the Botanic gardens in Sydney. I mean they're just everywhere.
Speaker 4:
50:43
Okay.
Speaker 2:
50:46
And you know, you see any stairway, you spot, everyone's going [inaudible]
Speaker 4:
50:50
you need it. You mean,
Speaker 2:
50:54
and people really put themselves on parade. Um, it's hot. P you people are a highly competitive about exercise. So we'll see. It's either going to be a best seller or no one will touch it.
Speaker 4:
51:11
Another question [inaudible]
Speaker 2:
51:19
I steered clear of it in fiction, um, because there's a lot of climate change fiction out there already. And I just, I don't like to go onto overly tried territory. It's not that I'm not following the issue and I have conflicted feelings about it. Um, it's less that I'm, uh, some kind of climate denier or something. I'm just, I wonder whether we can actually control it of a wonder. I find it plausible that we caused it, but I'm a little anxious about our ability to pull it back. Climate is extremely complicated. So I mean, to me the, it has become such a, a catechism in its own right. Uh, I'm not sure even that kind of slight, uh, variation on the faith. Is that interesting? Um, it's a, it's obviously a kind of fatalism which is not very appealing. Um, and there are just tons of novels out there about, you know, you know, near future climate change have they go back to like 1960. So this anxiety has been around for a long time and therefore I just, I don't think we need another one. Good question though.
Speaker 4:
53:01
Sorry. I'm reading about you and [inaudible] the main to movement. Do you have ideas about that? Is that part of that identity politics? Does that encapsulate that as well?
Speaker 2:
53:23
Well, I think that they are,
Speaker 3:
53:27
um, the,
Speaker 2:
53:31
and I generally supported the me too movement at the beginning. Like I think most of us did. Um, they, the, the cases at issue were grave and, uh, and I, I've, I was glad they were brought to white, but I, I thought that it rapidly degenerated and the, that gravity, uh, started to disappear and we got pettier and pettier and I thought that did a disservice to the people who had truly been assaulted. Um, so I ended up sort of split having to split off.
Speaker 3:
54:14
Uh,
Speaker 2:
54:16
I even didn't think that the [inaudible], this is controversial, but I didn't even think the Christine Blossy Ford at the Kavanaugh hearings, while I didn't feel unsympathetic, uh, I thought that the story was small and that the idea that this incident in which nothing really happened and it could have taken only 30 seconds of for the idea that this would have ruined her whole life and been haunting her decades later. I found it, first of all, implausible. And secondly, if, if it was, if that was still the truth, then I felt sorry for her. But I didn't think she made a very good model for other women. I mean, I, I, uh, I, I believe we should all have a sense of proportion when it comes to crime of any nature. And,
Speaker 3:
55:20
uh,
Speaker 2:
55:22
I w I celebrate resilience. It doesn't mean I don't sympathize with people who are not resilience, but I admire people who go through difficulty and are able to get up and carry on with their lives and not
Speaker 3:
55:44
wow, Whoa. When it not the was
Speaker 2:
56:00
I fell in love with my husband and I was with someone else at the time and it was the most painful experience of my life. It is still the most painful thing I have ever been through.
Speaker 3:
56:19
Um,
Speaker 2:
56:23
and the, I still loved my partner at that time. I, and I hated her, hurting him, and I was sufficiently torn that I started living in a kind of parallel universe. I, it was hard for me to decide what to do. And I, I think that we all do this. What do these, this turn? It turns out that this is a very commonplace experience, especially this thing of being with somebody that you think you're fine and you're going to be with forever and you're happy and then you get hit broadsided you know, and it's like, what's this? I didn't ask for this and this is, and it's both wonderful and terrible at the same time. And,
Speaker 3:
57:14
uh,
Speaker 2:
57:14
therefore it was natural for me to kind of do what we all do and start figuring out what my future would be like with each of these men. And I just wrote a book that literalized that and fictionalized it. The men are not the same.
Speaker 3:
57:32
Um,
Speaker 2:
57:35
you know, when we're trying to decide what to do, we often imagine however vaguely how these few different futures are going to go. In fact, we do that with a lot of things. Like if it w w w with a job offer and falling in love is in some ways a job offer. Um, and that's why I chose this structured even for those of you who haven't read it, it's a parallel universe novel, uh, which begins with a single first chapter in which of the protagonist is faced with a choice at the end. Whether she kisses this guy or not, who is not her partner. And, and what, what she does will, will determine which man she ends up with because it's when she gives in, it's a really good kiss.
Speaker 2:
58:30
And then you have to chapter two's and two chapter three's and four's because on the in on the side of the book that she doesn't, uh, doesn't give into temptation, she stays with her partner and you find out what her life is like on w when she, when she stays. And then on the other side, uh, she ends up with the guy she kisses and you watched the way her life proceeded proceeds, uh, depending on, uh, which ma, which man she's with. And some of its a dramatic and some of it's very subtle. You know, I end, uh, it's a playful book, but it's also very serious book. It's the one book I've written, which is really about the most classic topic in fiction, which is love and uh, and it's not political and that's kind of a relief. And do the play out through your whole uh, decision making process? Or did it come before or after? Oh, I, I made the decision first and then wrote the book and uh, it w you know, much as Kevin was in some ways, personal therapy way of working something out. I think this was a way of working out whether I'd made the right decision and I didn't take long to make the decision, but I did take a really long time to decide whether the decision was correct and that's an, that was very fruitful. Fictionally I think it was hard on my husband.
Speaker 4:
60:20
This lady is getting back home. Mr. Trump loses. What do you think is good to have? What do I say? Other helping be prisoner. How do you think he's getting you [inaudible]
Speaker 2:
60:40
if he loses,
Speaker 4:
60:41
did you lose thinking of abuse behaved?
Speaker 2:
60:46
Well, I mean, I guess there's only so much he can do when he's no longer president. I mean, he can make a big stink and he can still all hold rallies. Nobody's going to stop him.
Speaker 3:
61:01
Uh,
Speaker 2:
61:02
he's perfectly capable of claiming that the election was illegitimate, which is creepy because the most important thing about democracies are the peaceful handing over power and he's a sore loser. So I, I think that may be what you're fishing for. And I, I share your misgivings. I am, I would not trust him to bow out gracefully. I don't, I've never seen him do anything gracefully in his life. So yeah, it's a worry. And, uh, you know, the trouble with Shara losers is they encouraged the, their followings to be sore losers. Geez, he's paranoid. I think the people who are his core backing are also a little paranoid. It's become really ugly.
Speaker 3:
62:01
Yeah. Um, [inaudible]
Speaker 2:
62:03
socially ugly,
Speaker 3:
62:07
uh,
Speaker 2:
62:07
deeply personal amongst the electorate. A lot of friendships have been severed. And you know, it's G, it's also geographically polarized. So in New York, I'm hard pressed to think of a single Trump supporter than I know, and that's commonplace. That's, that's in fact that's standard that a lot of, a lot of uh, uh, anti Trump people don't know any Trump supporters and that's not healthy. I don't think it's quite as bad in the UK over Brexit, but it is one of the things they've gotten in common. It's even bitterer in the United States I think. Uh, but th they both as, uh, what, what Trump and Brexit as a phenomenon have in common is much more what those, what those events have done to the electorate, to the population, to socially and politically that that's what they have in common. Less than how how they happened, but what happened afterwards. Right off the back
Speaker 6:
63:25
test on breaks final lab. I'm interested in your views on it and your views on, I'm surprised about you. You said that there's, the sticking point seems to be the buyer's situation. You lived in Belfast, the clove VA's and that is that the co-plan of how the fact, as you see that resolving, what are your thoughts on being at the bottom of the hole? The bike?
Speaker 2:
63:51
I think the Irish border has been used by the EU as a ploy. Um, I think it's entirely soluble. Uh, I think too much has been made of it. I think this, uh, raising the specter of the return of the troubles is absurd and ah, opportunitistic and manipulative. I don't think it's very likely. Um, although there's a way in which there is an enticement to return to violence and those people, you know, the people who are left and are still, uh, you know, we're talking about Republicans obviously, um, they're losers desperate for attention. They don't need to be inspired. So in that sense, I really resent what the EU has done in weaponizing the Irish border. Uh, but it, it isn't really that big a problem. Uh, there isn't that much trade. It's mostly to do with the self interest of the, the Republic of Ireland that it is true that uh, uh, without any kind of a, a trade deal in place, the Republic of Ireland is going to suffer economically because they trade through Britain, right.
Speaker 2:
65:14
To get their, their goods out. And most of all they trade with Britain. So if there are terrorists put in place, they're going to suffer. Um, and I'm sympathetic with that, but you know, Varadkar did his people no favors because he, he, he got ideas above his station frankly, and took on this messianic role that he was gonna stop Brexit and he was going to get credit for stopping Brexit. And instead he's been instrumental in, in pushing BR Britain toward the hardest Brexit possible. Thanks. You know, so it was a tremendous miscalculation. Now, I mean, maybe you can tell I S I am a Brexit supporter and I have been from the beginning. Uh, I do not see why this is supposed to be such a radical much West, a right wing position. Uh, there is no reason that the UK shouldn't be able to thrive in or outside of the EU.
Speaker 2:
66:20
And, you know, this is one of those issues that if you want to just talk economically, uh, I could make a case for I either way. Ah, yes, yes. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, again, you know, it doesn't make a lot of sense to, to get so partisan that you are, you have blinded yourself to the other side. And I see the argument, and I think I'm probably most sympathetic with the younger people in Britain. Um, some of whom I know who do not want to have it taken away from them, the, the right to go and live and work on the continent. Uh, I think a lot of these people probably, uh, never would necessarily take advantage of that opportunity. But I, I do understand the, uh, the sense of a loss of horizon, a kind of loss of vocabulary in your, in your future.
Speaker 2:
67:14
And, um, and if I were in their place, I would feel the same way. I think. Uh, nevertheless, uh, England as a country goes back a thousand years and it's only been a member of the European union for not even 45. And I think it's perfectly capable of being a country again. And I have a fundamentally hostile relationship to the EU because it's, it's spirit is authoritarian. It, uh, it, uh, imagines that it is a benevolent dictatorship, but I don't really believe in the possibility of benevolent dictatorships. It is by design anti democratic. It, it, it, the, uh, European parliament has no power and cannot, um, cannot design its own legislation. It can only rubber stamp. Uh, it is being, it is a, the rule of bureaucrats and that's just not good governance in my view. And I, I am a believer in more localized power. And, uh, one of the things that's most disconcerting to me is the inability of liberals in my own country to be sympathetic with people who don't want to be rolled by the European union. The United States would never join a supernational organization whose laws trumped our own, sorry for the verb in a million years. And even liberal Americans would not want that. Uh, we're accustomed to having a country which, which D makes its own mistakes, uh, witness recently. Um, and so, you know, since we are a country that, that, uh, that broke away from, uh, then larger country that was controlling everything, why do we not understand that impulse? I really find that peculiar.
Speaker 4:
69:21
Good. I, um, awesome question. Yeah, there's two great by Timothy Snyder up the road to the freedom of the concerns with Russia or Ukraine on Russia, systematically undermined the EU. He makes the case in there that, you know, has the idea or the soul of nation state in Europe is really a fairly tenuous kind of an idea. It's gone from you know, empires to sort of nation States. They were at war for a period of time and then the EU allowed that to level out. Would you? Um,
Speaker 2:
70:04
well, I mean I haven't read that book and uh, I can see how you could put together that, that doesn't mean that there aren't nation States and they, most of them have been established for a while and that is the way people who live in those countries think of themselves. There is such a places, Italy and it's people who live there think of themselves as Italians and it's, they've been trying to sell this idea of getting to people to feel like Europeans first. And there are a few, there are a few right on people who will claim to feel more European than Italian, but a, for the most part that that is an artifice. It's a geographical and a political convenience, but it hasn't really had an emotional reality. And I just, I, I, I don't think that the imposition of a larger identity has succeeded. And I, and I don't under specially want it to, I mean I think one of the charms of Europe and lots of Australians often take their holidays in Europe, uh, is it's many differences. It's, it's the going to France is not the same as going to Spain is going to Germany and it's all in a remarkably small geographical space. And for outsiders it's exciting and, and I don't, I don't especially want to see that go away. And I also think that smaller units of governance are a little safer.
Speaker 2:
71:53
So if one goes off then there's at least still everywhere else. I am going to draw to a close and gone considerably over. Um, but I did want to give everyone a chance to ask you questions cause there were so many. Thank you. Kiana is always my favorite part of the event, so thank you. Pleasure.
Speaker 4:
72:25
[inaudible]
Speaker 2:
72:26
line will be signing books over there. Um, but she's going to be only here till seven o'clock. So you've gotta grab her, um, Q and a tomorrow night and the podcast, I'm looking out for the podcast. Right. Thank you very much. Everybody
Speaker 4:
72:47
[inaudible] can't do very well.
×

Listen to this podcast on