Writers Talk ed Philip Tew, Fiona Tolan and Leigh Wilson

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The Independent Culture

This collection of interviews with 10 contemporary novelists (no poets, playwrights or short-story writers) offers the simple, reliable pleasure of listening to experts talking about what they know best. Interviewees include Pat Barker, Jonathan Coe, David Mitchell and Matt Thorne. The tone is civilised, erudite, reasonable. A consensus emerges on certain points: most of these writers are great readers; they agree that book groups are a good thing, and that novelists have no responsibilities other than self-imposed ones; they are all conscious of working within a tradition; they tend to take a dim view of reviewers. More interesting are the different working methods by which they turn their ideas into literature. The editors deny in their introduction that they wish to reintroduce "authorial intentionality", but that's exactly what this book does (and why not?).

It is a pleasant book to dip into, but the sloppy editing is an unnecessary fly in the ointment. The editors (all university English lecturers) don't seem to know the difference between "mitigate" and "militate", "effect" and "affect", or even "of" and "off".