William Boyd is the award-winning author of eleven novels including A Good Man in Africa and An Ice Cream War. His books have been published around the world and have been translated into over thirty languages. With his new epic novel Sweet Caress set to be released on September 15th we caught up with the acclaimed Brit to talk about his writing routines, inspiration, and the maxims he lives by.
Do you have a set routine for when and where you write?
I can write pretty much anywhere – though I tend to do most of my work in my study in my house in London. I find that I can only write for about three hours a day, now – I used to be able to write all day. As a result, I tend to write between lunch and the cocktail hour. I’m an afternoon writer – we’re quite rare. Most writers work in the morning.
You’ve written many forms including novels , short stories, essays, screenplays and plays – what draws you to writing in these different forms? Which do you find most challenging or liberating? Do you have a favourite?
I’m a novelist, first and foremost. And because I can enjoy the perfect solitary autonomy of the novel I actually find I really relish collaborating with others -- once I’ve finished a novel. Which is why I’m drawn to film and TV – and now the theatre. But novel writing is my true love.
What do you consider the key ingredients of a good novel?
Story and character. BUT – most importantly, story and character that completely avoid stereotypes. Stereotypes form the bedrock of all bad art.
Do you have a different approach when writing male and female characters?
No, not really. The key thing is to avoid all received wisdom about gender – concentrate on personality, ignore the character’s sex.
What is it like to see you characters and stories on stage and screen?
It’s quite a thrill, of course. Suddenly these creatures of your imagination are flesh and blood. And because I’m very involved with my adaptations I’ve come to know a lot of these actors very well, as friends. It’s a rather wonderful bonus.
Is there a screen adaptation of a novel you particularly admire?
My own feeling is that films shouldn’t be adaptations – they should be made from original screenplays. A fond, vain hope, I realise. I think ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST is a particularly fine adaptation.
You’ve adapted other people’s work – Evelyn Waugh, Anton Chekhov & Ian Fleming – Has writing in this way affected your own style?
No, not at all. In fact I think adapting a novel for a film is a skilled craft, rather than an art. You change mental gears when you do it. It has no effect on your own original work.
Your writing is critically acclaimed and loved, what do you consider to be your best work?
I have a boring answer, I’m afraid. I always think that my last novel is my best work – purely in terms of technical achievement and professional competence. This is the best I can do at this particular time. Readers may not agree but, as a novelist, I always feel that my latest novel shows me firing on all cylinders.
Do any maxims you live or write by?
Many. “Nothing stays the same”, “Do it now!”, “Every day its own adventure”, “Seize the day”, “Things go wrong”, “Count your blessings”, “Do the right thing” – and so on and on.
Do you have any pearls of wisdom you can share for aspiring writers?
I think you have to remember that it’s VERY HARD WORK being a novelist. Stamina is vitally important. You need talent but you also need energy. It’s a long haul and you have to be prepared to put in the hours, days, months, years.
What are you reading at the moment? Is there anything you’ve read recently that you’ve been particularly impressed by?
I’m reading HENDERSON THE RAIN KING by Saul Bellow (I’m writing a piece on it). I read a second novel recently by a young novelist called Evie Wyld. The book is called ALL THE BIRDS SINGING. I was incredibly impressed by it.