TOKYO Feb 14 According to author Jim Crace, his
latest book will be his last novel. But "Harvest" came about
largely by chance, and wouldn't exist at all if a work in
progress hadn't failed.
Inspired by a painting and a train trip he took in
frustration soon after deciding to abandon roughly 100 pages of
a novel that just didn't work, "Harvest" is an elegiac look at
an English village that has a jarring collision with progress.
Crace, 67, says that the just-published book ultimately came
together in six months and was something of a gift that nearly
unfolded in front of him on the page.
A former journalist, Crace spoke with Reuters about how he
works and his career, which spans 10 previous novels that have
won numerous awards, including the Whitbread Novel of the Year.
Q: The book itself came as a gift and you said the writing
process was so much quicker. What was different about it?
A: "First of all, I'm a kind of puritanical person where
work is concerned and I was determined that I was going to dig
myself out of this hole and deliver on time. So I worked extra
hard, that's part of the story. But also I think that sometimes
it's a mistake for a writer not to write to their strengths,
which is what I had been doing. That writing a novel such as
'Harvest' was writing to my strengths. Because I'm a walker,
natural history is my subject, I've always been obsessed with
landscape, and I have an elegiac tone in most of my books.
"This is very dangerous to say, but the book sort of fell
onto the page. When I start a book - this is true of all of my
books - I don't have a plot, and I don't have characters. I want
them to develop and offer themselves up as this thing
progresses. Sometimes that can take time, and sometimes you can
do down some cul-de-sacs and have to return. In the case of
'Harvest,' that didn't happen. So if this is going to be my last
novel, it's going to be a novel I'm going to look back on and
say it was a generous novel to me. Some novels aren't generous
to the writer, and some are."
Q: Many of your books are underlined by quite large themes -
in "Quarantine" for example, Jesus's time in the desert. But if
you don't start with a plot or characters, how do you weave this
A: "Humankind has been telling stories forever and will be
telling stories forever. While we're having all these debates
about how the book is being destroyed by the Kindle, we have to
remember that narrative will not be affected at all, because
it's part of our makeup as a creature on this planet. Because
narrative has been with us for thousands and thousands of years,
it knows a hell of a lot, and it's generous.
"So if you can position yourself in relation to all of the
habits that narrative already has, if you can position yourself
with a good theme, then - and this is the spooky, New Agey thing
I'm going to say - narrative itself will offer you storylines,
and it will offer you characters.
"I remember with 'Quarantine' for example, when I started
writing I knew what the themes were, they were how do people
behave when they're on the edge ... I knew I was going to set it
in Jesus's caves - but Jesus was not going to be a character in
that book. Why would he be? I'm an atheist, a good old North
Korean style atheist. I was going to give him one line only, to
give it a kind of historical provenance as to what the people
were doing in the caves. And I remember very clearly that day
when I sat down and started to write and starting off with the
line that Jesus came and he was a Nazarene - I forget what the
line was - but by the end of that day, Jesus had taken over the
chapter. He hadn't taken over the chapter, as some religious
people have said to me, because the Son of God was standing over
me guiding my pen, he'd taken over that chapter because the imp
of storytelling realized that this was a great opportunity. And
of course having taken over the chapter, he kind of takes over
the book. That's the way it works."
Q: The setting in many of your works is both real and
unreal. Why do you do this?
A: "On a simple level, and this is too easy an explanation,
I suppose it started with 'Continent.'... I wanted to set this
thing in a place where I could invent things but I wouldn't be
doing a disservice to a real place. Secondly, literature up
until the 19th century always invented places. If you look at
the traditional stories of the world, from the Anansi legends in
Nigeria to the puppet plays in Indonesia to the Greek legends or
the Icelandic sagas - whatever it is, they're not in real places
with real people and real creatures. I mean, the Minotaur didn't
exist. Those caves didn't exist. So really my writing is
traditional in that regard.
"People call the places that I invent 'Craceland.' I quite
like that - of course it's a play on Graceland, the Elvis thing.
What they really are, they're all inventions, and carefully
defended inventions, because that allows me to do exactly what I
want without having to research, without having to become the
slave of history books. To go wherever I want and say whatever I
want without regard for any factual truth. In other words, I can
go for the bigger truths without worrying for factual truths.
Q: So if you love writing books so much, why is this one
going to be your last?
A: "I'm still young and I'm still not dilapidated and there
are still many, many things to do. There's travel, more
political things, I want to paint more. I'm toying with the idea
of writing for the stage. I really want to be an expert on
natural history subjects and not a dilettante...
"There will be more books. I'm going to write a book of
Borgesian style essays, and I'm going to write stage plays. And
I'm going to write natural history."
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, editing by Paul Casciato)