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Mark Haddon
In your interview on Newsnight (BBC 26/04/2013) you said that the phenomenal success of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT was like dreaming your car could fly and then seeing it actually take off. How has the experience of finding yourself airborne impacted on the process of writing since?
I have no idea how my life would have panned out if curious hadnít been such an unexpected success, so itís hard to say accurately. IĎd wanted to have a novel (as opposed to a childrenís book) published for a very long time, so the immediate effect of curious simply being accepted by jonathan cape and david fickling was to satisfy a longstanding ambition and relieve an increasingly uncomfortable frustration.
The fact that it sold in such large number of copies means that Iíve never since had to write something I didnít want to write, which is a blessing.
On the other hand it sucked me up me into a whirlwind of publicity which was flattering and exciting at first, but which prevented me writing anything else for a long time, so that Iíve had to learn say Ďnoí in order to spend more time writing new books instead of talking about old ones.
as for the continuing mind-boggling success of the novel I try to put it out of my mind as much as possible. if anyone went around thinking, ĎIíve sold millions of books,í theyíd probably never do the washing up again, let alone write another decent book.
Christopher in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT; George in A SPOT OF BOTHER; Angela in THE RED HOUSE; all have mental health problems. You're obviously interested in mental illness but what is so compelling about it for you as a subject for fiction?
To be strictly correct (and in this case I think itís really important to be strictly correct), Christopher Boone doesnít have a mental health problem. if he were real he would probably be diagnosed as having a learning difficulty, but I much prefer his own self-description: a young mathematician with some behavioural difficulties.
Of course he is eccentric and an outsier and his life is not easy. ďHappiness writes white,Ē as Henri de Montherlant wrote. People with perfect interior and exterior lives are never terribly good subjects for literature. For a start they donít elicit our sympathy. Secondly, itís only when lives start going wrong that you get the chance to pop the bonnet up and look at the secret workings.
In THE RED HOUSE, as in your other novels, you seem to inhabit the minds of all your characters - whether a teenage girl or a middle-aged man. Is this insight due to a natural gift of empathy or do you have techniques for 'hearing' their internal monologues?
I think itís impossible to write any novel without having a fascination with what other peopleís lives look and feel like from the inside. but itís one thing imagining what it must like to be your neighbour or your cousin or the woman who works on the till in Tescoís. Itís another thing altogether to imagine what itís like to live a fictional life you have conjured into being. So empathy, absolutely, but a lot of hard work, too.
Who or what inspires you to write and is that changing as you develop as a writer?
If I didnít write or draw or paint I would go mad. Itís as simple as that. Itís like eating or doing exercise or reading books. Itís just something I do, a part of who I am.
We see that you are giving a talk at the London Zoo on 27 August with the scientists and keepers. What was it about the giant turtle that made you choose it for a subject?
Rather prosaically, I was asked somewhat late in the day and colm toibin had already bagged the monitor lizard and Andrew oíhagan had already bagged the tapir. I quite fancied bats but we needed a space where I could talk, a decent group of people could listen and we could all see the animal we were talking. plus, thereís a lot to say about giant tortoises (not turtles), not just in the physical world but in the human imagination.
What, if anything, are you writing at the moment? Can you tell us a bit about it?
Iíve just written an hour-long talk / performance piece called The Missing Square which Iíll give at the Hay festival and various other venues. I did similar thing last year called ĎSwimming and Flyingí which was eventually published as a kindle single. We call it Ďstand-up seriousí.
Iím also working on a playÖ
Mark Haddon

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