Writers & Company

Adam Foulds on celebrity, solitude and the madness of desire

The Toronto-based British author talks about his love of film and society's fascination with actors and celebrity with Eleanor Wachtel.
Adam Foulds spoke with CBC Radio's Eleanor Wachtel in Toronto. (CBC/Katy Swailes)
Listen to the full episode52:20

In Dream Sequence, Adam Foulds's fourth novel, an obsessive fan and a television star pursue drastically different goals with equal desperation.

Dream Sequence is a witty and unnerving exploration of ambition, loneliness, and obsession.

Foulds has won prizes and attracted rave reviews for his surprising, wide-ranging fiction and poetry. The Broken Word, a novella-in-verse about the Mau Mau rebellion in 1950s colonial Kenya, won the Costa Poetry Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award in 2008. The Quickening Maze, a novel centred on the 19th-century poet John Clare, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Walter Scott Prize, among others. 

Foulds is the recipient of the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Originally from England, he now lives in Toronto, which is where he spoke to Eleanor Wachtel.

The fame motive

"Henry in Dream Sequence is a character who is beset with desire and ambition of a particularly burning and unappeasable kind. That was the essence of him for me.

"He's become successful as an actor in a television show — a cozy Sunday British drama series that is a bit like Downton Abbey — which has brought him his first taste with a degree of fame. 

"We join him at the beginning of the novel and the show has wrapped up its final season. He's stepping off this escalator that he's been on for the six or eight seasons that the show's been on.

"He's very anxious to step up to the next level of fame and wants to become a film star.

Henry is a character who is beset with desire and ambition of a particularly burning and unappeasable kind.- Adam Foulds

"It's this next level of fame that he assumes will enable him to finally feel secure, fulfilled and palpably experience his success in a way that has eluded him so far."

Of fate and fandom

"Kristin in Dream Sequence is a divorced and lonely woman who has difficulty making connections in the outside world. She met Henry in real life in an airport briefly — and in that meeting had an overwhelming experience of connection. It was almost a religious experience, in which she felt that the loving nature of the universe was revealed to her and now has a profound and metaphysical connection with Henry.

Kristin believes that she is destined to be together with Henry. Her trajectory through the novel is to bring that about, to make that happen.- Adam Foulds

"Kristin believes that she is destined to be together with Henry. Her trajectory through the novel is to bring that about, to make that happen. 

"This is something that does occasionally happen to people. They have a kind of religious experience in meeting other people and they then have to live with the peculiar consequences of a new reality that they hadn't suspected but is overpowering. 

"It spills into a thinking about the inner nature of the universe. For me, it was important that it's on a continuum with ways that we all think at certain times. We can all fall into a magical thinking about things being meant to happen and fated to be with this person. 

"But for Kristin, it takes on a deeper sense of metaphysical conviction: her sense of fatedness."

A sense of precarity

"I was interested in Henry and in the actor's life and psyche as a subject is because it is full of a precariousness and temporariness that many of experience in our employment life. There's a sense that he's waiting to feel securely placed in the world. 

"He's waiting to feel a secure kind of success that he can rely on. He wants a future that he can see, one that is mappable and solid to him. That's something that more and more of us lack — that sense of a solidity in our futures. Actors are particularly prey to this feeling because their employability changes with age and fashion. 

He wants a future that he can see, one that is mappable and solid to him.- Adam Foulds

"There's an interesting peculiar tension in the acting world between this absolute objection of the professional life for almost all actors — and these astonishing portals to great wealth and fame that very few get to step through.

"Henry is desperate to be one of those who gets to walk through such a doorway."

Adam Foulds's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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