Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Man Booker Prize nominee David Szalay on the first novel that enthralled him

The Man Booker Prize finalist answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
David Szalay is the author of the novel All That Man Is. (Penguin Books)

Canadian-born, British-based author David Szalay made his Man Booker Prize debut this year as his novel All That Man Is was shortlisted for the £50,000 ($86,482.91 CDN) literary award. 

Below, David Szalay answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Karen Solie asks, "Do you remember who you were reading when you first realized, not that you wanted to be a writer, but that you were intrigued by writing and what it can do?"

The first novel I remember being fascinated by, as a piece of writing, as a verbal artifact, was Animal Farm. I was about 10, I think.

2. Lynn Crosbie asks, "Have you ever confronted, in your writing, the most shameful thing you have ever done? Should you?"

I think you probably should. And I think I probably have — certainly I've written about things that are shameful, and that have their roots in my own experience. Events in your own life that elicit strong emotions in you when you recollect them tend to be easy, and in a strange way even pleasurable, to write about, even if those emotions are negative: shame, anger, remorse, regret, fear and so on. Often these things end up as a sort of comedy in my work, which may have a cathartic value also.

3. Michael Winter asks, "Do you have a window you can see out of when you write, or do you purposefully write up against a blank wall?"

My desk faces a blank wall, and is in a room containing very little else.

4. Robert Currie asks, "What book by someone else do you wish you had written, and why?"

Is writing perhaps too personal for me to wish that I had written, specifically, someone else's book? I can wish that I had the talent, the skill, the success, the fame of someone else, but not that I had written someone else's book, even books that I hugely admire.

5. Joy Fielding asks, "What comes first — the character, the theme, or the plot?"

It's not entirely clear, but if you really want to pin me down, I would probably say the character.

6. Paul Yee asks, "Do you think it's harder to write funny stories than serious ones?"

No. If anything it might be easier.

7. Tracey Lindberg asks, "What questions would show up on your FAQ (frequently annoying questions) list?"

It's often irritating to be asked to reduce your work to a simple thematic statement, or to have to say, in a sentence or two, what it's "about". Also, I have this strange aversion to talking about characters in my books as if they were real people.

8. George Elliott Clarke asks, "What literary character would you like to seduce — or be seduced by?"

Oh I don't know. I'll say the Princesse des Laumes on the basis of her brief witty, glowing, jaded appearance in Swann in Love, which I'm reading at the moment.