LONDON, April 24 (Reuters Life!) - Ian McEwan, whose latest novel “On Chesil Beach” has won critical acclaim, says he tries to block out e-mails and the Internet when trying to write.
Considered one of Britain’s leading novelists, the 58-year-old has also been busy reading the latest research on climate change, an issue he believes is impossible to ignore.
McEwan spoke to Reuters recently about his new book, which is set in Britain on the cusp of the sexual revolution of the 1960s when, McEwan argues, society was divided between those who embraced the new ideas and those who rejected them.
Q: Why did you set “On Chesil Beach” in 1962?
A: “It seemed a slightly neglected time to me. When people say the Sixties, they don’t mean 1962 ... even 1966, and I very much wanted a narrator who would be aware that this was on the shore of those times, the great shift in social attitudes.
“I remember, say through the 70s, I had a lot of friends who were five or six years older than me, and there was a clear sense there was a generational divide, even though the years were insignificant.
“A lot of guys who always wore a tie, who sat at a typewriter wearing a tie, who wore a sports jacket — I used to think, ‘They must wear a sports jacket in bed.’ I was 18 in 1966 and I went to university ... and that really was formative for me. We often think of generations as 25 to 30 years. I think of a friend like (critic) Ian Hamilton who used to run The New Review ... He was only five, six years older than people like myself, Martin Amis, but he really disapproved of our ways and dress and hair.”
Q: Could you describe a typical writing day?
A: “I like to be there at my desk by 9 or 9:30 either at home (in London) or there are one or two places that I rent. There are certain things I have to black out. One is not to look at the newspapers — I’m a newspaper junkie and I like reading them in hard copy and not online — disabling the email program so it doesn’t pop with messages, because I can’t overcome my curiosity, and turn off the phone. That’s the only way I can do things.
“When it’s going well I’d work until about 1 p.m., eat a sandwich, start again around 2 p.m. If I’m going well I’ll continue, if not I try and set aside a chunk of the afternoon for reading, otherwise no reading ever gets done except last thing at night before falling asleep which is never really satisfactory.”
Q: What are you reading at the moment?
“I’m reading Milan Kundera at the moment. I have a great passion for his stuff. I once went over to Paris and spent three days interviewing him ... I went to his flat and the interview was all in French.
“I got so immersed in his stuff that I stopped reading him. I thought it was time to catch up, so I went right back to the beginning and read ‘The Joke’. I’m just finishing that. I’ve been reading ‘David Golder’, a short novel by Irene Nemirovsky.
“I’ve been reading a lot of climate change stuff ... I think I have now got my head around it. I think there is no longer any doubt that levels of CO2 are rising in the atmosphere and they are rising because of human activity. The science of that is just overwhelming.”