Roth has recently and controversially (one of the judges resigned in protest when he was chosen as the winner), won the International Man Booker prize and he’s one of those writers that you either love or hate but that you can’t ignore.
I must admit, I’ve only read one of his novels , ‘The Human Stain’ (and only because it was a book club choice). I can’t remember absolutely loving or hating it but it clearly didn’t inspire me to read any more! (I’d like to see the film though!). But I do feel I should try some more (can anyone make any recommendations?).
Roth has won more awards than you can shake a stick at, he’s often described as ‘One of America’s Greatest Writers’ and, in his late seventies, he’s still writing award-winning novels. So he must be doing something right.
In the interview with Kirsty Wark, I was struck by two things: one, that Philip Roth seemed really likeable (and I wasn’t expecting that. This is a man who’s been accused of all sorts – including anti-Semitism and misogyny) and secondly – and this is the bit I want to pass on to you – when he’s writing, Philip Roth gets stuck too!
In his study, Roth has what Kirsty described as a ‘child’s letter set’ on display. She asked him to explain why and he said that when he gets stuck or frustrated by writing and doesn’t know how to proceed, he tells himself to forget that he’s writing a book, ‘that the book is unimportant’. His goal (he tells himself), is ‘to write a sentence’ and then, within that sentence ‘just one word, attached to another’ and then, within that word, his goal is ‘just to attach one letter to another. That’s all you have to do’. Breaking it down like that, into childish terms, is his strategy. It comforts him when he becomes frustrated.
Kirsty Wark commented that viewers will be surprised to hear that Philip Roth, even now, ‘panics’. ‘Panic’, he laughed, ‘is probably over-stating it’. He doesn’t run around screaming, he admits but he does get ‘frustrated’.
Next time I get stuck and frustrated (which will probably be the next time I try to write!), I’m going to give that strategy a go.
“Writing has to be larger and darker and deeper than life.” – Philip Roth