Thursday, February 14, 2013

7 Questions For: Author Lynne Reid Banks

Lynne Reid Banks is the author of ten acclaimed adult novels as well as many much-loved books for children. 

She was born in London in 1929, the only child of a Scottish doctor and an Irish actress. During WW2 she was evacuated to the prairies of Canada where she spent 5 years. After studying at RADA in the late 1940’s she became an actress and later joined ITN to become one of the first women TV news reporters in Britain. Her first novel, The L-Shaped Room, was published in 1960 and caused outrage in more conservative quarters for its portrayal of a an unmarried mother-to-be who is thrown out by her father and has to live in the L-shaped room of the title. The novel was later adapted for cinema by the legendary Bryan Forbes and brought great critical acclaim.

In the early 1960's she went to live in a kibutz in Israel with her husband where she taught English. In 1971 she brought her family back to London where she continued to write for adults and children including her classic children’s novel, The Indian in the Cupboard which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and was made into a highly successful feature film. 

Lynne Reid Banks has now written forty five books and lives with her husband in Shepperton, England. 

Click here to read my review of The Indian in the Cupboard or here to read my review of Tiger, Tiger.

After you've read this interview, check out another interview Lynne Reid Banks gave to herself or some video interviews.

Lynne Reid Banks is a hero of mine from childhood and one of my dream choices for the lunch date in Question 7. Few things have given me as much pleasure as posting this interview.

And now Lynne Reid Banks faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Well, of course they change.  Children’s books?  At the moment they’re “The Queen’s Knickers”. “Pets in Pants” and “The Wrong-Coloured Dragon.”   Yes, knickers are underpants (I’ll have more to say about Britishisms in a minute), and the ‘Queen’ is our queen.  Apparently she didn’t mind.  (I would.)  I’ve chosen these, not because they are, necessarily, my kind of books but because books like these sell like hot-cakes so I’m studying them.  (Perhaps I should just mention that the last-mentioned is by me.  Many of my favourite books are.)

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

Oh, none at all, if you mean creative writing.  I don’t have a blog, I don’t do Facebook and I certainly don’t do Twitter.  Imagine having to keep to 140 keystrokes or whatever ridiculous restriction they impose!  I think all these are killing conversation and face-to-face, or even telephonic, friendship.  I even think they’re damaging writing.  But email is wonderful. I do spend unconscionable hours writing emails to friends, fans and others.

Reading?  Ah well, that’s different.  Many many hours.  I’m currently reading three books at once, including one for teenagers.  And that’s not counting referring to Shakespeare so I can get him by heart, to have some good stuff to recite to myself while swimming lengths. It’s so boring otherwise.  I've just managed to memorise Henry V’s Crispin speech which is pretty long. It doesn't half go well with a good brisk overarm crawl.  I also read a posh newspaper every day. The Saturday Review of books fills in any spaces between the book-bricks.. 

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

I was always quite good at writing at school (I had to be good at something) - such schooling as I had, which ended with WW2 when I was 15. But of course I was going to become an actress, and I did, so my first real writing was stage plays.  Then some short stories. Then some journalism, and eventually an adult novel called ‘The L-Shaped Room’ which did rather well, in fact it’s still in print 50 years later – I think I can be quite proud of that.  After that I decided I should maybe forget about acting and TV reporting and be a full-time writer, but first I went off to the Middle-East for a decade and became a farmer and then a teacher. In school hols (Britishism) I wrote another novel, or was it two, and then I came home (bringing a husband and three little boys) and after that I had to keep writing because we all liked to eat.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you? 

You've got to have talent. And you've got to graft.  (That means work hard, you Americans - I know you’re good at that but you might not know the British for it. My U.S. publisher used to get after me about British words before Harry Potter came along. They used to put glossaries in my U.S. editions, telling Americans that ‘Toffo’ was a kind of candy and a ‘lorry’ was a truck. Now I guess you’re all bi-lingual like British kids have always been.)  I don’t think you can be taught to write. You can do it or you can’t, and you do do it, or you don’t.  But you can improve.  And the only way I know to do that is to read good books and talk to articulate people who keep quoting Shakespeare. Like me.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?   
When it’s really flowing, so you can escape your everyday life into somebody else’s world. And when you've just finished, and know what you've written is incredibly, world-beatingly brilliant. Before the editor gets her hands on it and tells you to re-write it or cut it by half.  This last has happened to me. (I turned it into two books and got paid twice.)

What is my least favourite thing?  
When your muse deserts you, or you find out that the zeitgeist (sorry, that’s not British, it’s German, so OK, try ‘the fashion’) has left you behind. When everybody’s reading books about dysfunctional families and post-apocalyptic societies, and horror, and violence, or bodily functions, and you don’t want to – and can’t – write like that.  Mind you. I wrote a book called ‘Angela and Diabola’ about good and evil twins, that was a bit horrific I admit, and I wrote ‘The Dungeon’ which was medieval and quite violent in spots, but I don’t feel like pushing the envelope any more. I just want to write about my childhood and nobody seems to want to know about that because it wasn't dysfunctional. I mean, my parents didn't die and leave me in the care of horrible people who were trying to kill me for my money or who made evil androids to look after me.  There was just a world war and being sent to Canada.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

My watchword, given me by my wise mother, is Nil desperandum. No. No. Not British.  Latin. But that’s about life in general, not about writing. You might need to despair if nothing you write gets published, or rather, think it possible that you’re just not good enough. Or that publishing has become a closed shop. Or that the zeitgeist has passed you by. Or that you need a day-job. Or that you should keep it if you’ve got it.  But you can still write for pleasure and try not to mind that you’re the only one who thinks you’re a writer.  Miracles do occasionally happen, but I call them luck – sine qua non. (Heh heh.  Look it up.)

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Well, it surely wouldn't be Dickens, or Shakespeare, or any of the other men who behaved so badly to women. In fact it wouldn't be any of the heavies (I mean geniuses) at all. None of the Russians or Germans, for certain. They would make me feel so insignificant and I can’t take that at my age and they’d depress me.  I’d like somebody fun, like P.G.Wodehouse, not that I read him but I bet he’d be good company. Or Salman Rushdie. Except I've read his memoir (620 pages) so there’d be nothing left to talk about,  Maybe a playwright?  NOT Harold Pinter, he’d want to quote his awful poetry to me all through the meal. Terence Rattigan? Too effete. Graham Greene? Too Roman Catholic. Eugene O’Neill? No fear, lunch would go on forever. Wait! I've got it! Rabelais! If he could be brought back by magic from the 16th century, he could talk English by magic. (Or better still, I could talk French). Yes! He’d be perfect! We’d drink a lot of excellent wine and he’d make me laugh, and I’d ask him a bit about the Renaissance and about how a monk can be so naughty. I bet he’d choose delicious dishes as well.  Those monks knew how to live well and enjoy themselves and that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome interview. Loved hearing about all the other careers Lynne tried on her road to becoming an author. And Wow! She's written so many books.


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