Richard Ford Talking Books

Richard Ford

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will look at a Newsnight investigation into allegations were


not broadcast. Now it is time for talking books. I'm a New Jersey for


this edition of talking books. My guest is the novelist Richard Ford.


One of the most admired insignificant writers of his


generation. His trilogy about a sports writer turned estate agent


set in a New Jersey suburb planning three decades has made his


reputation. Canada, his latest novel has pushed him to the


forefront of American writers. One of the reasons for that is he is


viewed as a consumer stylist and storyteller with characters so


meticulous reshaped that some say his fiction is too popular and


urgent to put down. Richard Ford welcome to talking books. You have


said that you see writing as a vocation, not a profession. What is


the distinction between those two? For me the distinction, a


profession is something that goes on a track parallel to your life.


Sometimes you live never reaches over and reaches that track. A


vocation, come is like a priestly life. A vocation is something that


runs along the same rails as your life. We work there is not that


distinction. That is how I describe it. There was a moment she felt you


had to commit to saying you are a writer. Tell me about that. I was


flying with my friend from New York to London. I never go to London. We


got to get rid airport. There was a Carby had to fill out. That said


your profession? I had never had a profession before. I was 40 plus


years old. It did not know what to put. I could not put professor. I


could not put railroad engineer. So I finally said that I was a writer.


It made me very nervous. I did not feel I had, I did not want a beer


that burden. I did not riding books and have an unpublished but writers,


to be a writer meant something to me. To say that I was one was


climactic. A one to ask about one of the things he said about writing.


He said most of life is spent in after part. When we have to be good


humans. We're there is no great dramas where we have to live. All


your books focus on being informed by that sentiment. Is that a big


challenge for you, given in the context of writing a book in terms


of plot? What you are implying is that I do not pay that much


attention to issues and plot. I'm more in dressed in issues of


sentence isn't having important things happen upon the page are


both in sentences and at the lives of the people who were described.


There would not say it is a particular challenge. If you


believe, what you have just said, that morality, ethics are often


vividly visible in the consequences of our actions, to try to dramatise


the consequences of actions is natively interesting. That is my


job. My job is to make interesting what somebody else might look at


and think, what is not containing of drama and importance. Do you


ever have an exciting that what you describe may stop people from


turning the pages. I had that anxiety every night and every day.


My idea of a successful book is one that I can make them writer of --


reader have read the end of. If I can do that, what you think is your


business. Not that I'm indifferent to what you think about it. I will


have exposed you to all the imaginations of Norman tricks and


scheming son and skills. If I get you to the end I would have had the


best chance that you. Why has been most of my time doing his thinking,


or somebody read the sentence? If they read it will they think what I


want to think. Will they think themselves of one or read the next


one now? It is part and parcel of what I do. That is part and parcel


probably what everybody who writes novels thinks. In your latest book,


Canada, we know the two big events the novel that will take place.


First I will tell you about the robbery my parents committed in the


in the robberies that got committed later. So you tell us. It could be


the opposite. Not really. always have to deliver the goods.


Respect off of plotting. There was a plotting decision on my part say


to the reader, some place along here, you will come to a murder or


a bank robbery. It is not a spoiler, it is a hawk that needs to plant


itself in the mind of the reader, not consciously all the time. Once


the reader reads that, certain kinds of pressures are acting. He


advantage of a good first sentence is great. You have to deliver the


goods. You have to get to the bank robbery and the murders. You have


to bright some good sentences to get them there. I want to talk


about your series of knowledge chills -- series of novels


acknowledged as a chronicle of post-war American life and the


central character. I never set out to do that. But the main character,


Frank Basque and resists that. Why you resist that he is perceived in


that way. I don't resist that he be perceived in that way. If you read


it Europe liberty to feel what you do. For me, it was being


Aristotelian at heart. It was the specifics of one man's life at one


identifiable time at a time of not terribly memorable American history.


I'm more a creature of the particulars. Of the instant moment.


Of individual things felt and thought than I am of things seen


from a helicopter looking down on the earth. To see things at a


distance, is not my string. That is what my skill set is. That is how I


imagine life for my own life. would you characterise this present


franc best can who tries his hand at writing fiction quite


successfully. Casts it aside and becomes a sports writer. In the


next book he becomes estate agent. In the next bookie faces mortality


and gets prostate cancer, the backdrop of this is American life.


The meticulous miss with which you betray American society makes an


emblematic of something? Not to me. The particularity of American life


in the history of the moments in which he lives are decisions about


sentences. Decisions about what I can do in the background of what he


is doing to make what he is doing in the foreground more plausible.


In the meantime, I get to front load things into the book that I'm


thinking about. Things I may be hearing the news and have opinions


about. They always fully in the background. That is not to say I am


a complete moron. I do know that the serenade the political books


because they do what George Eliot sears, historical novels should do.


They should show how history plays itself out in the lives of


individuals. I'm principally concerned and the lives of


individuals, in that they be betrayed in a way that is


empathetic. Not be portrayed in a way that be Little's them by making


the ING creatures of larger forces they may not be aware. It is


interesting for you acknowledge these are political novels. He did


not set out to write a trilogy. What was it about that singular


voice of Frank Basque and that tree back to him time and again? It was


something I can actually describe. When I was young, I had a


bifurcated sense of myself. That I was a person who could have been


smart if you would be. I had an instinct to be smart. I wasn't very


smart. I wasn't very well educated. I knew how I would feel if I was.


There was this instinct full part of me which was blockaded. That is


how I love done most of my life. When I started writing books, I


thought would be wonderful if I could create characters who were


both intuitive but also could in the interior selves, aspire to a


certain kind of intelligence. For me, he is so that kind of person. A


visceral person who can also talk about a lot of things. He is not


necessarily an interpreter that an observer of the passing scene in


his lives. In the process of trying to create a voice, supple enough to


be both Raya, direct he was the product of that. He is not my


Monaco. Frank is not somebody who speaks for me. He is not self-


expression for me. He does lots of things I would not doing things


lots of things I don't think. His sense of humour and sense of


seriousness are something I do not understand. Why has it ever


conscious effort on your part to make his story set in a place which


you will find all over America, the suburbs of America, particularly


eerie New Jersey? The new -- the novel seem to be a pay on to the


subjects. What was it about is that made you think you one or Mary


Banias of this to be a big part of what I'm writing? I thought the


vocabulary of the suburbs, the commonplace vocabulary from the


kinds of things that people say about the suburbs to the names of


places and Suburbs and what the landscape in Suburbs looks like is


interesting. And in some instances quite funny. Here the issue, more


forcefully for me was that I wanted to write books that went against


ordinary grain. The ordinary story about the suburbs is that they have


deathly, waste lands, in her it they are anaesthetised life. I


wanted to say, a wanted to take the other view. They are the product of


our lives. They are the realisations of our wishes. This is


what they look like. This is what happens when you realise your


wishes. You may as well love them if you have to do anything about


the more with them. In that way, it was a full on effort to go against


the commonplace. You start by describing them with huge


generosity and the language is Marsh and questioning the


conventional definitions of them. By Independence Day something has


I think that they all sound exactly alike. Then that one person will


say that one book is distinct from the other. But I am not terribly


aware of that. I think that Frank continues living, continues to


Marite these stories. -- now rate. But I am not entirely aware of it


being so distinct. Let me take you back to your childhood in


Mississippi. What was it like and why did she leave Mississippi?


many reasons. The poor little boy who never fit in... I didn't fit in


because my parents had moved to Mississippi one year before I was


born. I had no connections growing up. I fitted in as best as I could


but I never had that sense of being anchored to the place. It was a


remarkably Tova did time in the south. -- turbid. It was thick with


violence and hypocrisy and animus. I was not a very good at being a


race hate her. You were aware of all of that? Yes, I did my best to


fit in. To fit in, you had to walk that Walker and talk that talk but


I couldn't do it with any conviction. I couldn't commit to


the idea that there was another whole race in the world that was


less than I am. It seemed convenient when high school ended


to disappear. So that was what I did. It wasn't an act of courage.


If anything, it was an act of personal cowardice. If I had been


courageous, if I had been smart enough to be courageous, I would


have stuck around and fought for my principles. Instead, I went to


Michigan State University and tried to put that behind me, tried to


start over again, tried to go some place where nobody knew my parents,


knew my history. I even gave myself a new name. Instead of calling


myself Richard, I caught myself Dicks. It was a reinvention.


yet, you regard Mississippi as home. I have had to live up to that


through the years. I have had to go back and go back and go back. I


have had the luxury of more or less a good writing life in Mississippi


and general respect. This is the state of Tennessee Williams, after


all, people who made me respect writers. Easier for me than it


would have been for someone else to go back to Mississippi. I have had


to deal with a lot over those 50 years. That is a long time. And you


have only set one of your books in Mississippi, in the south, but why


not more? Why do you not feel like you want to connect with it through


your writing? I might come to feel like that one day again. The first


book I wrote I wrote to through a gut instinct, that sent to me that


if you asked from Mississippi, that is what you have got to write about.


That if you are from Mississippi, you have to write for southerners.


But it quickly occurred to me that I had nothing new to say about the


south. Everything I had to say about the self I had already read


about in Dyffryn novels. So I thought I had to quit writing about


the South or else I would never reach a reader should outside of


the South. And I came to understand that I had a hunger to write for


readers who were not just southerners. I thought to myself


that I should live up to my own aspirations, even if I did not know


what they were, and tried to write for everybody. In your latest novel,


Canada, America is present by its absence. Why did you choose to call


the book Canada? What are you saying about the relationship


between the two countries? I don't really have a view about what I'm


saying. I am just lucky that I can say it at all. I wanted to set it


in Canada because my private experience with Canada has been so


good over the last 50 years that I have been going there. Whenever I


cross the border from the law were 4-Yate into Canada, I always feel


this wonderful sense of rising in my spirit. And maybe it is partly


because America is such an incident country. -- exigent country. And


Canada is not. Also, Canada is such a tolerant place in a way that


America is not. Most people are not armed in Canada, property rights


don't mean in Canada what they mean in America. America was founded on


the notion of property rights, whereas Canada was not. For me, it


is just a generally different experience but that is just my


personal experience. I was trying, in writing about Canada, to find a


language, dramatic language, for what seemed to me to be about


Canada some place of renewal. So I had my character leave a bad place


in the US, find even worse circumstances in Canada and then to


outlive it. To restore himself. he stays there. Yes, he becomes a


Canadian at the end of the book, rather than go across the Detroit


river. Also, I like the word Canada. It has wonderful concert mental and


vowel sounds. -- consonants and vowels sounds. I like seeing it


when it is written on a page. Even though there was some pressure from


a publishing house to change the title, no-one had any success.


idea of loving how a word looks on the page is very important to you.


Many people say you are a consulate stylist, the language, detail and


effort it takes to produce what you produce the is your hallmark as a


writer. That usually means I am not making any money. Not true in your


case. Not enough. Consulate stylers to usually means he is broke. They


write's writer means he is broke. I got lucky as I got older. I am


dyslexic so I don't just see language as a medium for cognition.


I see language as objects on a page that have links, which and sounds


associated with them. And all of those things to someone with


dyslexia are consequential. So is the coveted part, get in from a


word it to the meaning in the brain, is somewhat impeded. I have got to


listen very carefully when people talk to me or I will not remember


it or have heard anything. It has made me a very good listener


perforce. And it has made me a slow reader. But as a slow reader, I


have come to appreciate all the good things that languages.


writing in your books appears effortless but I suspect it is


really not. I think probably in everybody's practice, that is where


we spend most of our time. Working long sentences, writing them once


and then writing them again. Everybody works pretty hard on his


or her sentences. For me, with a mind that is basically in chaos all


the time, the ability to articulate a sentence is pretty much trying to


make sense out of chaos. I have got to work out that pretty hard. That


said, my goal in writing sentences is to make them money fearless, to


make them beautiful, interesting and in massive. But more than


anything, I want to create sentences that make the extremely


complex and difficult accessible. Four would you advise a young


person who says to you, I want to try my hand at writing, would you


say, yet, or give them a go? For it they said I want to try my hand at


writing, I would say yes. If they had that kind of tentativeness


about it, I would say sure. It is a victimless crime, go ahead. If


someone said to me, what I want to be more than anything else is to be


a novelist, I would say, why don't you try to talk yourself out of it?


Because you will probably fail. The vicissitudes of life are that so


many circumstances... You have got to marry the right person, you have


got to be in the right situation, you have got to not be a drug...


Many of these things have to a line in order for you to even get access


to being able to do the work. And if you do the work, there is no


guarantee that any body will even write it. If you look at the World


-- if you look at being useful to the world, there are lots of


different ways that someone can be useful to the world without reining


horrors down upon themselves. Then if the person says they have tried


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