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tv   Charlie Rose  Bloomberg  December 27, 2014 10:00pm-11:01pm EST

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>> from our studios in new york city, this is "charlie rose." >> margaret atwood is here and she has written more than 40 books and her new book turns to short fiction for the first time in nearly a decade.
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it is called "stone mattress." i am pleased to have her back at this table. welcome. why did you return? >> it just kind of happens. the first one, i really was on a boat in the arctic and i really did start writing a story about how you would murder someone on the boat in the arctic and get away with it. and there really were five people called bob on board -- >> five people called bob? >> it was a number so you can change them. >> you call them tales. >> i did not want people to think it was realistic even though we kind of are. i do not think there are any real zombies or anything in the story. there are certainly people interested in cut-off hands that crawl around by themselves and other memes of the form.
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>> you would think, dear reader and writer, that short stories would be easier, but it is not necessarily so. >> it is not necessarily so and on the other hand, some of the problems are similar in that if you cannot get the person reading the past the first page, you are doomed whether a novel or short story. >> if you do not get them past the first page, you are in trouble? >> you start with "stone mattress." >> that is true in everything. you have to get the reader's attention. >> sometimes it is the title and sometimes the first paragraph and sometimes it is the second paragraph. for instance, "dracula" a guy is on a train and everything is kind of mundane and he must get the recipe for his wife. we think is a pretty boring guy. we know something he does not and we know the title is
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"dracula," so we know something is coming along. >> you have anger, death feminism, and the natural world. >> richard, cut off hands. charles bonet syndrome through the stories. that is the one where if you are losing your vision, sometimes if you're feeling quite isolated, you see little people. >> it is an actual disease? >> it's an actual syndrome. usually in multiples. dancing in groups or marching in groups. they do not interact with you. you can talk to them but they do not talk about a it is called charles bonet syndrome. >> how did you find out about it?
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>> through the author who wrote the "circus wife." he has a book about hallucinations of various kinds which is fascinating and i wish i could remember the title, but it's something like "hallucination." >> revenge is a theme? >> fortunately, it is. we like reading about it and we may never do it ourselves. i was an early reader of edgar allan poe, and a couple of his stories are about revenge. i got the idea quite early. a friend of mine, who was a writer and collector of stories was doing two collections called "dark waters and black arrows" and he said canadians have not written any revenge stories and i said we will have to change that. [laughter] they were quite interesting to write. >> do you like male or female
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characters? >> equally well but i am fond of gavin in the book in the second story. a very grumpy, older man. he is a poet so he is grumpy in a very articulate, verbal way and he has married three of his students, one after the other. the one he is married to now is quite a bit younger. it makes for an interesting situation. he is a former boyfriend of the person and the first story who is a fantasy writer. and she is putting gavin inside of her fantasy world but he is inside of a wine cask where she has kept him for 50 years. [laughter] >> tell me about torching the dusties. >> setting them on fire. it is an upscale retirement home.
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so nothing but the best. and the central character has a friend called tobias, who's seeing the little people. she is therefore her telling her what it happened. he sees a mob outside of the retirement home demonstrating with signs and they turn on the radio and they hear it is fairly widespread. in some cases, the mob has burned down the retirement homes. there are younger people very annoyed that this generation spent all the money. and not creating any jobs for them. they have a movement going on burning down nursing homes and -- excuse me -- one of my retirement homes. it is called advanced living
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issues. you do not want to end up in that one. one of my favorite parts that you would like us would have a panel discussion on the radio. this wonderful panel discussion in which they talk about what is happening in a social phenomenon and the economic factors that nobody does anything about. sounds familiar? [laughter] >> what is the future like? >> that is so interesting. to me, i got a letter about it. it is connected with the library in oslo, norway. i teamed up with a conceptual artist called katie patterson and she put together for them. the forest is growing in norway and will grow for 100 years. each of the hundred years, a
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different author will be asked to submit a manuscript to the library and you will put it in a box and seal the box. it can contain no images. there shall be only one copy and you cannot tell anyone. all will be known is the title and the name. when the 100 years is up, they will open all the boxes and will cut down enough trees from the forest to print the 100 books. it is like a time capsule. my book will be the oldest one at 100 years old. and the youngest one would only be one year old. during that 100 years, all of the people today alive unless something radical happens will no longer be so. they youngest authors have not been born yet and their parents have not been born yet so they have no idea who that will be.
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>> you see darren darinskey doing something with your work? >> the film director. this is other people being busy and i didn't have to do much. and so, he's doing the "mad adam trilogy." he is doing it as an hbo series. we will have a few discussions choosing a writer. we'll soon see the first script. >> do have any role in looking at the script and offering an opinion? >> we will find out. [laughter] the whole process -- >> whenever i have you here, always reminds me how delightful you are. you have the reputation of being tough. >> i know.
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>> i know. >> when you tell people margaret atwood is coming, people say watch out. she doesn't suffer fools. >> watch out. you have to be good. >> what is it that -- why do you have the reputation? >> once upon a time, before you were born, it was so that you would get on a radio show or have a journalist or something and they will say things like women cannot write or say why should i read your book? and tell me what it is about. in those cases, i would push back a bit and i would be mean. [laughter] >> that's right. did you worry about not being invited back so you -- you did not care if you promoted your book? >> i did. >> you have the luxury and you
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can choose where you want to go. >> yeah, yeah, that is true now. but once upon a time, i did give my first book signing in the men's sock and underwear department. >> i would do that, too. it had only been six months of your life. if you spent five years, you want to sell the hell out of it, wouldn't you? it's not even about making money, you spent so much time in it. >> you want it to be read, of course. which is why people say to me, the future library, nobody's going to read the book, why would you do that? books are time capsules anyway. so, yes, there've been many phases of book promotion. some of them more laughable than others. there is a book called "mortification: writers and their public shame," in which
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writers tell of all the horrible things that have happened while presenting their work in public. it makes you feel better. some of the things in there are so awful that will not happen to you. >> what do you think of amazon? >> what do i think of amazon? that's a loaded question. [laughter] i think were in a very complicated conversation here. there's no doubt that publishers depend on amazon to be a distributor of books. that is the good side. the bad side is competition is productive within limits. once it is in the state of monopoly, it does away with competition and people get lazy.
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>> you said that the older you get, the more you know about the plot before you begin to write because you've lived longer and you've seen more and you know more. and therefore, it is readily available for you to pour into the best plot to the book. >> possibly not the plot probably more the characters. >> you see people you want to model your characters after? >> i have more data at my disposal. [laughter] >> a good way to express it. >> at my age, you have known more people and read more books and that's the way it is. >> suppose they call you, a commission, a board, a group of people? >> a secret person. i do not know who it is. i made that up. >> could be. i do not know. >> the phone rings as someone said something.
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>> they say margaret, can you hear me? i am calling from oslo or stockholm. >> the phone rang in 1970 and there is a little voice on the end that said, i am a film producer. my name is oscar lewis. i said who is this really? [laughter] >> who should get the nobel prize in literature next year? >> a whole bunch of them. a lot of excellent writers around the world who -- >> who have never been recognized? >> there's only one a year. there are more good writers than there are nobel prizes. >> everybody thinks you are on their list. >> it is a rumor.
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no one has actually seen the list. the phantom list. >> the great dimension. >> lets me put it to you this way. the devil comes to you and says, charlie, you can either keep on doing your show or win this big prize. >> i would keep on doing my show.>> this book is called "stone mattress." i love having you here. >> thank you. >> e.l. doctorow is here and is one our greatest living authors. i am pleased to have him back at this table. this is what the first front-page review of the new york times says. i've always responded to my time -- he has no choice responding to the history of one's times is
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the sworn duty of a character in a novel by e.l. doctorow who has in his writing placed a remarkable number of people, both real and imaginary in their history. just to watch the response. >> that is interesting. >> do you agree? >> not entirely. the label of historical novel, not one i welcome. >> what is wrong with it? >> all novels are set in the past if you think about it. even h.g. wells science fiction is very victorian. and some novels have a wider focus and include public figures and historical events. some have a narrower focus about
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family, personal relations and so on. but they are all about the past. there is no ontological difference between the two. also my novels are set in different parts of the country. the dakotas, down south, georgia, the carolinas, new york city. i feel you might as well call me a geographical novelist than historical novelist. i just like the word novelist. >> ok, i'm looking for the word "historical novel." >> maybe i over anticipated. [laughter] >> it says it judges the reader somehow. >> yeah, i think this is not
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formulaic fiction. when you do this work for a while -- >> writing novels? >> you want to find new ways to do it. and then the equivalent to -- james joyce was a beautiful writer. realistic, sense of fiction. >> he seems to have done all right. >> virginia woolf decided she wanted to write a novel without a plot to forgo that device, that convention and she did a couple of times. writers have always had the feeling that formulaic fiction is unsatisfactory. the way this book has turned
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out, i think it breaks a few rules that pleases me. >> who is andrew? >> andrew came to me as a figure standing in the snow and holding an infant swaddled in his arms in front of a door with a snow-covered down of his yankee ball cap. >> there was some urgency to it as he was waiting for the door to open. i found myself writing that. i had to find out a way what was happening just what was going on. >> he is a neuroscientist? >> a cognitive scientist. in his opinion, no great distinction. he suffers from the fact that all of his life he has been in
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an inadvertent agent of disaster. an earlier infant he administered medicine to and it was the wrong medicine and the infant died. all of his life, he has had this trail of awful things that happened. he imagines that now, he is unable to feel anything. which is a self-delusion of his failing. >> you make no distinction between real and imagined? >> that is correct. that is the rules, you do not know what he is imagining or whether he is reporting what actually happened. it is the convention of the unreliable narrative, it really
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takes it to extremes. and in that way, the book does test the reader. it does judge the reader. and -- i just think that fiction can be too comfortable. no, it is the most conservative of the arts. historically, in art impressionists began with picasso and cubism. abstract expressionism and conceptual art. all these changes. fiction has not moved that much. we have been through postmodern writing.
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that is rather timid in terms of finding a new way -- >> aren't you partly responsible for that? >> i came later. >> but you are a novelist, a great living novelist. therefore, aren't you responsible for the quality of novels in our life? >>certainly the ones i've writte. it is a matter of personal dissatisfaction. you always want to talk with you have done. once something is done and you cannot do anymore, you have to move forward. >> were you in search of -- to have a conversation about neuroscience and philosophy of the mind that show the conflict?
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>> this point of view of philosopher, it is fascinating subject and philosophical concern is the subject is most curious. what has happened is the one materialist conception of thinking has taken over from the old cartesian dualism. in modern neuroscience the soul is fiction. the problem is how the brain creates feeling, thought, love in all the subjective states of mind. how does that happen? nobody knows. there is an immense amount of activity going on to map brains
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brains and figure out increased there is a huge story in "the new york times." >> i have a separate thought. if it can do things like figure out about parkinson's or alzheimer's, that's terrific. >> that's primarily what the motivation is. >> it is noble but i have projected in this book the point where andrew is supposing we can figure how the brain works. if that happens, then we could build a computer that has consciousness. this sounds like movie stuff. but there's actually some serious people in this field who believes that theoretically, it is possible. if that ever happens, and won't for a long time, if it ever
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happens all the stories we are living by are finished. the bible, of the bronze age mythological we have of ourselves as human beings are gone. finished. that can be as disastrous as an asteroid hitting the planet. >> i have dealt with the scientifically at this table. >> i know. >> talking about consciousness. also talking about artificial intelligence and all of that. >> i am giving you andrew's line on that. >> that he worries. >> he is a bit of a hysteric. >> you also have some politics in here, don't you? >> i suppose you can call it that. i do not see it that way. it is a very intricate book. things lock into other things. for instance, andrew, his first wife whom he is bringing a baby
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-- bringing -- >> to the door of his ex-wife? >> and his ex-wife's husband is performing. he is an opera singer. at one point, he calls andrew a pretender because boris was terrified that somebody could come along pretending to be the rightful czar. since he has killed children to take the crown, he has posttraumatic stress disorder. andrew is the pretender. andrew becomes the other character in the russian opera in "the holy fool."
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in that opera, boris begs the holy fool for forgiveness. the fool stands for russia. when he arrives to the u.s. -- >> a george bush like character? >> i am sorry you said that. the point is, i am under -- if someone reads this book 25 or 50 years from now, it will not matter who the model of his character is. it will just be a portrait of moral inadequacy attached to power. >> that's remarkable you do that. thinking about something on the
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cutting edge of the frontier of the future. >> what happened is for some reason, i assigned him this profession. and so, i had to deliver on that. >> do you know -- >> he has grave misgivings feeling the brain is his jailer. he says at one point, how can i think about my brain if my brain is doing the thinking? there is immediate self alienation in a remark like that. that's because he cannot accept the romance and comfort of the idea of the soul. >> thank you. thank you for coming from a pleasure to have you here as always. >> thank you. >> george saunders is here.
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he gave the address at syracuse university and the message was simple and powerful -- try to be kind to others. a few months later, the new york times posted the transcript and it has been shared more than one million times. that speech is now the book. i am pleased to have george saunders back at the table. just tell me, what am i having in here that is different from reading the speech? >> originally, i'd written a 20 minute speech thinking that was the lead and two days before, i called and they said it is eight minutes. exactly right. as a short story writer, pretty good at cutting it back. very similar to the speech itself. the speech was kind of surprising. i do not expect it to really go beyond that day. when it did, i felt like maybe i did something right without knowing what it was.
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>> what you think it was? >> partly the 8 minute length meant you had to be urgent and was not a lot tougher supporting data. also i was given it at syracuse where i teach, it kind of loosened me up a bit in thing i'm going to speak from the heart. at the end of the day, what do i really think? i had given a version in 2004 to my daughter's middle school graduation. it was our daughter and her friends. real simple, kind of urgent thing, whether i do support or not. >> can you sum it up by saying it's about kindness? >> what i was trying to do in the setting where people are a little more open than usual, trying to make a case that kindness is not kind of this
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optional thing we have but an essential, human characteristic and should be of an a valid intellectual concept. anybody as a writer or artist or citizen should take anything about. we all think things like courage and energy are proper virtues and the others, compassion kindness are nice but optional. i want to say actually, these are all part of being a powerful human being. >> some of the people i have interviewed have acted courageously which is different from kindness. and set it is the thing to do. >> maybe it would depend on the date.
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i was thinking in a sense of, i was running marathon today. i just have to. they had never run before, not going to be successful. i am thinking since this kindness comes and goes, it makes sense to start early. try to train. you do not want to -- in the speech, i lightly alluded to it. that is what religion is. that was kind of one of the messages coming if you will take my advice -- that is kind one of the messages, it would take my advice. >> is there a danger in the digital culture we live in? >> in terms of anonymity, people behave really badly when their name is not attached to it. that is a problem. but i teach at syracuse and i have never met kinder, more mindful kids.
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i think more so than -- when i was a kid in the 1970's, i do not remember being nearly as -- >> how is it expressed? >> we teach these high-level writers in a workshop format. they are just wonderful it being specific in their comments but not ever harsh. not trying to put somebody down. it's a real kind of sympatical kind of feeling. also, i remember our generation is being cynical and so afraid that you would rather say something harsh. these guys are real comfortable with emotion it is presented. >> was there a moment in which a powerful moment, absurdism was actually realism? >> oh, yeah. i went through a period in my 20's or 30's when i had my first
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kid, working at jobs and sort of not having enough success. in that sense, it was really you could see that absurdism which you can see at the bottom. people see you as less capable than you are. >> people talk about your work as being postmodern or dark, does it ring true for you? >> i think it is dark. my art is a purposeful exaggeration, not supposed to be a perfect mirror to life, a puppet show that region in order to touch on certain parts of life. for example, if you ever been a situation where you were struggling to properly represent that, you might have to take things to the dark side.
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i cannot imagine i could do it with a bunch of happy people and restaurant enjoying. you have to put an earthquake to get it going. i think the darkness is a way of luring out of the light. if you want to talk about love you have to put it like you would in an engineering test put it under heat stress it is we human beings do. >> do artists have a moral function? >> yes, but a little careful. the moral elements will come out very quietly if you let them. it is about people.
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you want to see people in their full glory which by definition is moral. saying what look at human being is saying, what's your essence? that by definition is moral. >> many people when they look at writing say you can get it better through fiction than reality. i have never quite been convinced of that. that real stories can't be as powerful as the mind -- >> i am not sure. maybe the mistake is the intention. i do not think fiction is trying to show you life. i think it's trying to do a very beautiful, exaggerated that's not life at all. something happens that is not random. but a blood bath and go in there something happened in
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it is not random. after a roller coaster, you are not inclined to discuss it. you are just thrilled. for creative artists, the rest follows. >> when we got another commencement speech? >> i do not think i will. it went pretty well. i had experience 10 years ago, i was on an airplane and when one of the engines went out. smoke was coming out and people screaming. it was a clarifying experience. first of all, i was not capable of thinking. when things calmed down and landed, it was amazing in that moment, i thought i would never write another book. i was in absolute denial. then, in a space of 2 or 3 days, it was clear that the goal is to open yourself up and do not be afraid to try to love other people.
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and then, those things do kind of close down. i think i will get to that. i am noticing as i get older, i get more sure of that is pretty little frustrated i do not realize sooner. what you realize is you can get better. it is hard going to work against your own ego, really a big job. it is a work of a lifetime. >> thank you for coming. >> my pleasure. >> ian mcewan is here and his new book tells about a leading high court judge presiding over the case of the jehovah's witness who refuses a blood transfusion. it is called "the children act." welcome. sir alan ward is a friend of yours. >> he is. >> he tells you a story.
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>> he gave me dinner once. there were several judges and they were all, got to know each other judgments. >> the purpose is to inform you about judicial proceedings? >> no. nobody thought i was an on the job novelist. sooner or later i had a judgment in my hand bound volumes and started looking. it is a form of fiction. especially the family right in the heart of fiction, the novel's concerns for i put in the back of my mind for three years later, he taught me a story about a jehovah's witness case. he was halfway through the story when i knew i was going to write something.
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>> it is lost in the end of love. it is the end of love. the contested destinies of children. medical and legal ethics. and all ties the issues that do not resolve crimes with guns and knives. ordinary dilemmas that face people once or twice in a lifetime. >> depression? you set out to write it and what did you do? >> i read more judgments. i became impressed by the best of them and there were terrible judgments by the way. but the best of them, great historical prose, philosophical, use of irony and wit. these are all secular judgments. they do not refer their moral systems to any supernatural entity.
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yet, they're constantly dealing with the religion. kind of a rift here and i thought, this was what i would like to explore. >> where was religion in your life? >> church, in england, my background was polite and conventional. i used to carry the flag in the garrison church. my dad was an army officer. i sometimes read a lesson from corinthians, i think it was. but i lost all religion. >> you said about writing a new novel, a set of dealings so vague that you cannot even write them down because you might ruin them. >> yes, sometimes wrapping words around a thought is way too suffocate it.
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creation is a very important element. don't rush into things. have a good idea. sit on it a while if it's a good idea, two months later he was a good idea. >> mold it like a cheese. would you know it is ready? >> when you can no longer stop yourself writing paragraphs. >> this case has a stark contrast between law courts. >> it happens a lot and the more i looked into it, there were three judges, all of whom had at one point or another -- all of whom at one point or another went against the wishes of a
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young jehovah's witness to have a blood transfusion. >> what do parents who do not get the blood transfusion and out child dies? do they say it must be god's will? >> there is a certain degree of fatalism. i have heard them say to me, we do not see death as something final, it is a beginning. the courts generally take a very robust approach to this. if you wish to make yourself a martyr to your religion, that is fine. you are an adult but you cannot inflict it on a child. generally, the courts will give the hospital permission to transfuse against the parents' wishes.
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but the closer the child gets to 18 to his or her majority, the more the courts want to hear from the teenager himself. there's not just a rubberstamping moment. the courts take it very seriously because it is criminal assault to treat somebody against their wishes into the hospital. >> when you created fiona may, how did you create her? >> the first thing i did. >> she is a judge? >> a judge. 59 years old, childless. well, it is a vague process of watching sometime walking out to you from a mist using the outline of your shoulders and their phase. as of the other personality and you write them into existence. one sentence generates another. one thought generates another.
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when you are lucky, if you're lucky, she has a life of her own. she tells you what to say. the possibilities shrink. >> you get a enough in the character so they tell you what they think and what they say. >> they exclude the possibilities. no, she wouldn't say that. this lady was somewhat against the grain, rather self-contained highly rational, but emotionally rather against the grain of women to be so much more articulate in emotions than men. let's have her wonderful in her work, takes her personal life for granted. now it's facing a crisis. she is not so good at dealing with her own problems and she is much better at other people's.
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>> i love the name fiona. if i had three daughters, one of them would be fiona. one would be margaret, my mother was margaret. it is always to me, you know -- somebody who knew their own mind and strong. >> i used to say this, it just occurred to me a piece called "fiona," said in the magistrate's court. incredibly striking. she was tall and freckled. i am sure we can find some facts. [laughter] >> maybe i want to marry fiona. >> just don't marry them all. [laughter] >> she meets adam.
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>> the cases before her in the high court in london in the court of justice. she does a slightly irregular thing. she suspended the court proceedings and catches a cab at the boy's bedside and he's 17 years old. she sees right through him in many ways at the same time, he stirs her. the child she may have had. >> and then -- >> paradoxically for a boy thinking about death, he is teaching himself violin and wants to learn an irish lament. she sings it.
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she tells him it is by the poet yates. she is a messenger from another world. suddenly, she is the reason why he wants to go on living. >> what criticism of your writing do you find the most off target? >> the other things people always say -- >> no matter what you write? >> i would have an unbelievably extraordinarily thrilling or exploitative event to completely change their lives.
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i say, i do not remember -- i do not think -- it does not make any difference. whatever i say, they're only really thinking of the opening chapter. one assesses what i do and i can never -- this is what i'm doing i can never push people's attention away from it. the first 200 pages is one long flow of notes of expanding circumstances. nothing too dramatic. usually when it is public on a stage and in earnest interview this question has come off internet and not based on his or her reading. i am too weary of even rejecting the question. [laughter] >> i just think just get on with it. >> yeah. >> after you write a book, are
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>> after you write a book, are you anxious to the next one of do after a period? >> i like hesitation. i am quite good at not writing. the capacity for determined stupor. i thought, well, i disagree with the remark. i love determined stupor. [laughter] a kind of relaxed mode of reading, traveling, seeing friends and idle thinking. >> where do you write? >> i am very lucky. i have a big old converted stone barn attached to the main house by double doors. i cannot hear anything going on
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in there. all of my books are around the walls. >> you start in the morning. >> later. >> after breakfast? >> i do not eat breakfast. just a slice of toast. i carry a second cup of coffee. i think i have a couple of hours of me and my work. >> you plunge into the night. >> ian mcewan's book is called "the children act." as you know, he is the much-praised english novelist. thank you. >> thank you, charlie. >> thank you. see you next time. ♪
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>> here's johnny! >> from the moment he stepped on stage to the day he said goodbye -- the king of late night was johnny carson. >> i am taking the applause sign home and putting it in the bedroom.


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