You write both books and screenplays. How does the act of writing change with different
In the immediate sense theres no change because even when youre writing a
screenplay you have to sit alone in your room and write what amounts to a short novel. The
real change comes afterward with the complete loss of control. A novelist is used to
having complete control over his world; he plays God. When you move to writing for movies,
you get demoted from being God to being one of the very minor angels ten ranks down.
Obviously, film is a collaborative matter. Its frustrations for the writer are numerous:
its essentially a directors medium. Its difficult to ever realise what
you saw when you sat alone. For that reason my own relationship with film has been rather
difficult and strained. I think that if you really want to take film seriously, you have
to direct it. No complaining about it; you write the screenplay and direct it yourself.
Ive often thought about this but I know it would threaten my novel writing so I
havent taken it up.
But the form of the literature that you write, the sentences, and the style is the same?
I think too much is made of the difference. It finally comes down to layout. A screenplay
is about 20,000 words; it bears a great deal of resemblance to a novella. At least in the
kind of narrative cinema that Ive been involved in, the characters have to be
established very rapidly, the plots have to move with economy, resolutions have to be
foretold with speed. So it bears a lot of relationship to short-story writing.
Do you use the computer to write and does this change the creativity of a writer ?
Ive been using a computer since 1985 and I think that word processing has been an
extraordinary gift to creative writers. It allows you a degree of provisionality. There is
so much that you can try, experiment with, without committing yourself to the words on the
page. Scenes that are left in the computer and are never printed have something of the
quality of something you mentioned. I like that cutting and pasting ability. And I think
that writing with a computer is much closer to handwriting than ever the typewriter was.
The typewriter was always much more of a mechanistic way. I think the word processor has
an ethereal form which I really work with extremely well. So I use a combination of
handwriting and computer to work. You find me now at a very difficult moment in my
relationship with the computer because I have finally decided to leave Apple, having
watched very carefully what was happening and to move to a standard PC. And last week I
took delivery of a new computer ten times as fast as my old Apple, with seven gigabytes of
memory. My old Apple only has 40 megabytes. Although this machine is very sophisticated
and very fast, I felt like throwing it out the window the first two days, because what I
loved about my old machine was the simplicity. And in the five or six years since I bought
a computer, theyve become so complex; the software is so complex. And I have to say
at this early stage, if you asked me, Windows 95 is a very poor imitation of what Apple
produced for its users. But Ill get used to it.
I would like to ask you, in your book The Cement Garden, you talk about a group of
young people who live together in isolation. Dont you think that this describes the
information society where everybody uses computers and is isolated from reality?
Well, I think actually its this isolation that will limit the impact of computers.
Because I dont think people will tolerate it. People will always leave their
computers and go and meet their friends in the bar. I think the universal, enduring values
of friendship, love, and gossip will actually make us see that computers are an addition.
Theyre not actually the substance of change. I think too many claims have been made
about the information superhighway that are absurd, actually. I think claims have been
made for its use in schools that are quite ludicrous. I dont think it is a great
educational tool. I dont think it will replace the interaction between a teacher and
children in school. I think the CD ROM world of encyclopaedias and interactive learning
actually has turned out to be far more limited than one ever imagined. It encourages a
degree of passivity in children which I dont think is very useful. I think there are
other problems too. In Britain recently Tony Blair was in a very well publicised meeting
with Bill Gates in Downing Street, and British Telecom has agreed to wire all the schools
in England to the Internet. And theres going to be computers in every school. The
problem already is that every three years these computers become obsolete. Doubts have
already been raised about their usefulness in the classroom. And it could well be that
were just misusing the money. We could actually be spending the money for teachers.
In effect the greatest computer is the biological one we carry on our shoulders. It might
not be so fast for processing in two-fifths of a second instead of a minute or a
micro-second, but still its had four billion years to evolve, and theres a
long way to go. And I think we shouldnt lose touch with those human things,
interaction, that really make learning interesting. So I think were on the edge of a
lot of big mistakes. I think computer are great but they need to be kept in their place.
In one of your books, you tell a story of two people meeting in a bar, and one of them
sends a message to the other, and they fall in love. Dont you think its a
little bit like falling in love through the Internet?
Actually, I once met a woman who was having an affair with a man through Minitel and it
lasted a week. They used to type these very sexy messages to each other over the Minitel
and they fell in love without meeting. Then he came to stay. She lived in the south of
France and he lived in Paris. And on the night that he was due to arrive she asked me to
come and have dinner with them. And she hated him; she thought he was a freak. I thought
he was perfectly nice. But they were heading towards disaster. This just goes to show that
you cannot form relationships in that way. I find those home pages on the Internet, so
mindless. Ive ever yet got anything useful from the Internet. I have spent some time
crawling around. Ive never met anyone who has learned anything from the Internet.
Youre not interested in finding information over the Internet?
Its so slow. And it never goes the way you think it should. It takes a long time for
information to download. I did buy a book from Amazon Bookshop in Seattle, but it never
arrived. So I phoned them and asked: Wheres my book? Oh, its in the post. I
sent you US$35 to bring it in a day. Oh well, human error. This is reassuring.
Your writing has been defined as like a labyrinth of storied and events. What do you think
I think the story that Updike started for the Amazon Bookshop was really just an
advertising strategy for the bookshop to get people interested in their existence. I think
about it the same way as about any collaborative writing for a short story. Its
never going to have individuality. Its a parlour game. Nothing more. I think for
writing to have some quite of strangeness, idiosyncrasy, it has been the result of one
person sitting in solitude, otherwise we could have had great works already. We dont
need the Internet to collaborate. We could do it with the telephone or the fax. But it
doesnt happen. Its not the way that the imagination works.
Do you think that in the there will be a revolution in the structure of the book?
My guess is that it will remain the same. Still we want our stories, our myths, and they
have to be written down and theyre best written down by one person who has the gift
to do this. I think what will change, though, will be the ease of access, the speed with
which you can buy a book through electronic mail. Really, the essential matter is to be
creative. Even if we finally get the electronic book, which sounds like such a marvellous
achievement, you could download any book you wanted. Thats only about access. In the
end the relationship is still between the eye, the brain, the words on the screen or on
the page. That is the universal, permanent quality of reading. That wont change.
What do you think erotic relations on the Internet?
They seem to be very sterile, very sad, completely pointless. It fills me with desolation.
Its not eroticism. Its auto-eroticism. I think its bloodless. So
Im sure it has a great future.
What do you think about censorship? Do you agree with people who say that the Internet
must not be a free media, that they will have to censor some pages?
Its very difficult because my instincts are that it should be free, although
Ive read about some terrible sites with child pornography. I think they represent
such an ugly side of human nature. Its so exploiting that. Im rather torn
about it actually. The wonderful thing about the whole enterprise is its freedom and the
fact that no one is in control of its growth. I think Im an agnostic on this. I feel
genuinely torn. If one thinks of these child pornography sites, then I think some kind of
control perhaps is necessary. They seem so fundamentally ugly. But thats a great
tragedy because freedom is always in danger.