Q: Any Human Heart, your last novel Nat Tate, and your novel The New
Confessions are all fake biographies (or in one case an autobiography). Why are
you drawn to the concept of chronicling a single person's entire life?
A: One of the best definitions of the novel is D.H. Laurence's. He described
the novel as "The bright book of life"and I suppose that the human
conditionthe investigation of human natureis the novel's primary subject.
The novel does our lives, our being-humanness, better and more richly than any
other art form available. So to track an entire life with all its ups and downs,
triumphs and tragedies seems to me an obvious and satisfying thing to do.
Q: In Any Human Heart we follow the life of writer-adventurer Logan
Mountstuart via entries in his personal journal. Why did you decide to use this
format for the novel?
A: Having tried the other formats available to any writer to tell the story
of a life, I realized that the literary form that most fits the way we actually
live is the journal. Other formsautobiography, biography, and memoirare
all much shaped and therefore fundamentally artificial. The journal is written
day by day without benefit of hindsight. The significanceor banalityof
events is not apparent. Which is how we live, in fact, taking life as it comes,
not knowing about the meaningful forking paths in the road ahead. So in a
journaleven a fake journal like Any Human Heart we get life in all its
randomness and unpredictability. We see how all lives are shaped by chance, by
hazard, by happenstance. Your life is really the aggregate of all the good
luckand all the bad luckyou have experienced. As true for Logan
Mountstuart as it is for the rest of us.
Q: Why did you make Logan a writer? Are there shades of William Boyd in Logan
A: I made him a writer because he was inspired initially by real writers. I
am fascinated by the life and work of that generation of English writers who
were born at the beginning of the century and reached maturity by the time of
World War II. People like Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene and Anthony Powell,
obviously, but also less well known writersHenry Greene, Laurence Durrell,
Cyril Connolly and Wiliam Gerhardie. The last two in particular lurk closely
behind Logan. I wanted to invent my own exemplary figure who could seem almost
as real as the real ones and whose life followed a similar pattern: boarding
school, university, Paris in the 20s, the rise of Fascism, war, post-war
neglect, disillusion, increasing decrepitude, and so ona long, varied and
rackety life that covered most of the century. Thus it follows that there's not
a lot of William Boyd in Mr. Mountstuart. I share some of his tastesfor
painting, for French poetry, for example, but none of his vicesidleness,
moral laziness, procrastination, self-indulgence (or so I hope)...
Q: Logan's life spans virtually the entire 20th century. How did you decide
what would happen to him? Did you outline the century first and fit Logan into
world events, or did you make up the story as you went along?
A: Logan's life, curiously enough, takes him to places and involves him in
events that I myself am very interested in: Paris in the 1920s, the Spanish
Civil War, the Duke of Windsor's time as governor of the Bahamas, the New York
art scene of the 1950sand so on. I always work in the same way: I never start
until everything is figured outso I spent a long time planning Logan's
85-year journey through the 20th century. It was very deliberate but the
challenge was to make it appear randomand therefore life-like.
Q: Throughout the journal, Logan is an impressive name-dropper. He has drinks
with Hemingway and is sketched by Picassso. How did you decide which famous
figures to include?
A: This is part of the search for authenticity. If you were a successful
young writer in the 1920s you would be bound to meet other successful writers
and artists and move in a recognizable artistic society. It would have seemed
odd if Logan hadn't met anyone "real" so I had him encounter and
tangle with all manner of people whose portraits I was keen to present:
Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Picasso, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ian
Fleming, Jackson Pollock etc. He meets lots of fictional people as well (not
least his three wives) but this leavening of real personalities in his
life-story was to make his journal seem true, convincingly real.
Q: Logan's voice gradually changes as he grows up and understands more of
how life works. Was it difficult to age Logan from a young student to an old
A: This was another challenge and to do with one of the main themes in the
book, namely that we as people are not consistent and unchanging and that over
the course of a life we are actually many different "selves"not one
self. I wanted the literary tone of each journal to reflect this and so the
voice subtlety changes as you read on: from pretentious school boy to modern
young decadent, to bitter realist to drink soaked cynic, to sage and serene
octogenarian, and so forth. I wanted the reader to have a palpable sense of
Logan ageing and changing as he's buffeted by life and struggles onward.
Q: As in all of your novels, there are some odd names in this book. Why are
you so interested in names?
A: Actually I think the names in my novels are wholly authentic. Open any
telephone directory and you'll find odder names than anything I could invent.
People have strange names, it's a fact. I was taken to task over this very
matter by an English journalist until I pointed out his own nameJames
Dellingpole. Oh, he said, I see what you mean. On a more literary matter I think
if a character is named correctly he or she already begins to breathe, to come
to life. Characters called Fred Smith or Sally Brown don't really seem alive to
meeven though Fred Smiths and Sally Browns do exist.
Q: It must have been strange for you to come to the end of Logan's life.
Did you know at the beginning of the book how he would end up?
A: I did. I knew exactly how, where and when Logan would die. But the key
thing was not to let this knowledge inform the lifehis lifeas I wrote it.
Still, it was a strange and moving moment when I killed him off, as it were. I
had written his life chronologically, from start to finish, without jumping
around, and felt I knew him better, possibly, than any other character I had
invented. For a few moments it was like an actual lossthe emphatic and
saddening sense of his journey ending. But then I became a ruthless,
cold-hearted, clear-eyed novelist again.
Q: The novel's index is very funny. How did you come up with the idea to
A: Again, the search for authenticity and plausibility: to encourage the
reader's suspension of disbelief. To encounter an index at the end of a novel is
extremely rare and somehow questions the novel's fictionalityfor a second or
two. It was great fun to compile as wellyou have in the index Logan's life in
microcosm and it can almost be read independently: you'd get a sense of who
Logan Mountstuart was and what his life contained.
Q: What is the significance of the title Any Human Heart?
A: It's to show that for all his individuality and his idiosyncrasies, Logan
is, in fundamental matters, just like every other human being, man or woman. His
life, in its simple humanityits desires and disappointments, its needs and
its traumasis exemplary, like all human lives.
Q: In addition to novels, you've written screenplays, scripts for
television, short stories, essays on art. Do you prefer one form over the
A: I'm a novelist, first and foremostthere is no freer, no more generous
art form in which to immerse yourselfall others involve some kind of
compromise. But I love movies and I enjoy collaborationmany of my friends are
actors and film directors. Working in film and television satisfies the more
convivial side of my personality.
Q: Your novel Armadillo was recently made into a television film for A&E.
Were you pleased with the result?
A: Extremely pleased. I thought the lead actor, James Frain, was
exceptional. The key thing was that it functioned as a successful drama without
requiring any knowledge of the book.
Q: Are any of your other novels or stories being made into a film?
A: We are trying to make a film of The Blue Afternoon, with Bruce Beresford
attached to direct. I've also adapted two of my short stories: Cork
and The Destiny of Nathalie X as films (low budget, art-house) and
they are struggling on.
Q: You recently wrote and directed your first feature film, The Trench
(1999). What was that experience like?
A: It was both tremendously enjoyable and daunting. I knew a lot about the
process of filmmaking because of all the screenplays I'd had produced, but
I'd never had to work with actors beforeand for me that was the big
question mark. In fact it all went extremely well. I was ludicrously
over-prepared (I had personally story-boarded the entire film) and I had a crew
that Stanley Kubrick would have been proud of. In fact, it was such a good
experience that I have written a scripta noirish thriller called Stone Free
that I hope to direct in the near future."
Q: We've heard a lot lately about actors who try their hand at directing a
film they also star in (Denzel Washington, George Clooney). Is it more difficult
to direct a film that you have another key role in, in your case as
screenwriter? Is it more difficult if you don't have distance on the project?
A: I think that the more intimately you know a film projectthe closer you
are to itthe better. Also it is a true collaborative medium: there are lots
of other eyes looking on and lots of other opinions to seek, and I was very
happy to take advice if I ever felt uncertain. As a screenwriter I'm naturally
very suspicious of the "auteur" theorybut as a writer/director I think
you do get a bit closer to that perfect autonomy you have as a novelist: in film
terms it's the best of all possible worlds. You get to make all the final
decisions (as director) and you have all the answers to any questions that may
arise (as writer). For some reason I have a hunch it would be much harder to act
in the film you were directingwho's going to give you acting notes?"
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm currently writing some new short stories as I plan to bring out a new
collection in 2004 (my third). I've published about six stories in the New
Yorker over the last few years and with a couple more new ones I'll have enough
to make a book. I've also just completed my first stage playa comedy about
Jean Jacques Rousseau and a disastrous love affair he embarked upon in
1757everybody behaves extremely badly.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher.
This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
British Parliament asks Amazon to clarify why it pays $9 million in income tax on $23 billion of UK sales.(May 20 2013) Amazon will be called back to give further evidence to members of the British Parliament "to clarify how its activities in the U.K. justify its low corporate...