Julian Barnes on crafting a story

First aired on As It Happens 04/11/11)

barnes-200.jpgIt appears the fourth time was the charm for Julian Barnes. The British writer had been shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize on three previous occasions before winning this year with his novel The Sense of an Ending.

"I had learnt the ins and outs of not winning the Booker...so it was nice to see the other side," the writer told As It Happens host Carol Off during a recent interview.

The Sense of an Ending is Barnes's 11th novel and has been critically acclaimed for its unique style and story. The plot revolves around middle-aged Tony Webster, who receives a letter that pushes him to reflect upon his youth and the suicides of his close friends.

In his interview with Off, Barnes discussed his personal philosophy when it comes to developing characters and storylines. Off asks if Barnes knew Mr. Webster's fate when he set upon writing the novel.

"I don't start a book until I know that I've got enough to finish it," he said. "Writing fiction is absolutely a self-taught profession. You can go to creative writing classes, but in my view, that helps you take short cuts. But you can only essentially teach yourself, and so I learnt through trial and error not to start a book until I was in a position to see the end."

This isn't to say that he knows exactly how it's going to turn out. In some ways, Barnes said he and his characters discover things as the writing progresses, but at the same time, there's no doubt that he's in charge of the book's direction.

 "There's a whole spectrum of the way writers regard their characters," he explained. "At the one end, there are those like Nabokov, who says 'my characters are there to be whipped like galley slaves,' and at the other end, there are writers who say 'oh, my characters just took over the story, they just ran away with it.'" .

Barnes says his approach is somewhere in between. "I'm sort of in the middle. I don't want to whip them, [but] on the other hand they ought to do, by the means of best persuasions, what I want [them] to do."

the-sense-of-an-ending-211.jpgThe Sense of an Ending

by Julian Barnes

Buy this book at:

Save on Music, Books and Dvds at Indigo

From the publisher:

"The story of a man coming to terms with the mutable past, Julian Barnes's new novel is laced with his trademark precision, dexterity and insight. It is the work of one of the world's most distinguished writers."

Read more at Random House of Canada.

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