Clive James: 'I'd love to write a play before I die'

Social affairs correspondent

Clive James, the terminally ill author and broadcaster, has said that he hopes to write a play before he dies because that’s “where the money is”.

James, who is 74, was diagnosed with leukaemia and emphysema in 2010 and has carried on writing throughout his illness. In an interview to be published in this week’s New Statesman, James describes how his work has become more honest as he gets closer to death.

“I almost died back there in 2010, twice as a matter of fact, and it did help me concentrate and I started to question my life and what I’d done. I was guilty that I hadn’t been a better husband and father and so on and honesty began to creep in, which is not necessarily the best thing to happen to a poet, but when it does happen it changes things,” he says.

“You have to have lived for a long time and be approaching the end of your life before you can see the world as I see it now, so I’m quite pleased with that even though I’m a bit terrified because it really is the mark of the end, isn’t it? One’s hoping to make a good exit.”

Asked about his projects, he said: “Fairly soon I’ll be going back to writing a book or two but I don’t know which one. I’d like to write a play, because for one thing it’s where the money is, but I’ve left it a bit late. It’s quite hard to be a playwright.

“I’d like to do a second volume of my book Cultural Amnesia, very much, but that’s a big, big task. And I’d like to do a last volume of memoirs. I’ve even got a bit of that written but I don’t quite know how to do it and I’m not so sure that it’s time.”

James also talked for the first time about his latest book, Poetry Notebook, which is a collection of his articles about poetry, due to be published in the autumn: “It pleases me that I’ve got something written that will be there to be published even if I drop off the twig, as we say in Australia.”

Speaking about the role of modern medicine in his survival, he adds: “I’m attached to the hospital by invisible tubes and wires and I’m very grateful to them. Boy, I’m in no doubt that everything depends on modern technology and plenty of cheap electricity.”

In 2012 James was forced to make clear that his death was not imminent after telling an interviewer that he was “getting near the end”. After the quotes garnered international attention, his spokesman made clear that he was “in fact in reasonable shape”.

The final words of the extracts from his New Statesman interview give an insight into his new drive: “I’m actually seeing more clearly now, even as my eyesight dims”.

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