“I wanted to explore the idea in this novel that despite love, some families simply cannot survive.”
British author Christie Watson joins the show to talk about her new novel Where Women Are Kings (Other Press). We talk about the process of adoption, her history with Nigeria (and why she loves its literary scene), the trick of balancing cultural differences and societal norms, and how she became a published writer in her 30s, after years of planning her book tour outfits. We also discuss the growth of writing programs in the UK, choosing her secondary school on whether they required uniforms, and her take on New York vs. London. Give it a listen!
“When you write a book, it’s going to be sitting next to Salman Rushdie’s book on the shelf, so by the time you publish, you have to be at the top of your game.”
About our Guest
Christie Watson is a British novelist. Her novels, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, and Where Women Are Kings have been widely translated. Christie won the Costa First Novel Award, the Waverton Good Read Award and was named Red Magazine’s Hot Woman of the Year (Creative).
Credits: This episode’s music is Will My Mother Know Me There? by The Carter Family. The conversation was recorded at the Other Press offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Watson by me.
What with me being me, it’s tough to go without buying books for too long, although I’m in semi-austerity mode just now. I ordered a stack of books from Bookcloseouts.com last week, but still made a stop at the Barnes & Noble on Rt. 17 in Paramus, NJ today, to see if they have a copy of JL Carr’s A Month in the Country in their used section.
They don’t. Still, I picked up some other things, then came home to find the Bookcloseouts order had arrived.
So here’s today’s book score:
Barnes & Noble
- Open City – Teju Cole – $7 – Just ‘cuz. If I don’t dig it, I can give it to a book-reading pal.
- Locas – Jaime Hernandez – $25 – Because one of my book-reading pals still has my copy of this enormous collection of Love & Rockets comics, and I’m afraid I’ll never get it back.
- The Time of Our Singing – Richard Powers – $5.99 – Suggested by upcoming podcast-guest David Rothenberg, partly in hopes of making Richard Powers another upcoming podcast-guest.
- The Echo Maker – Richard Powers – $5.99 – Ditto.
- Something Happened – Joseph Heller – $4.99 – Recommended by past podcast-guest David Gates.
- Checkpoint – Nicholson Baker – $2.99 – Ditto, from the part when we talked about shitty novels coming out of the Bush era. He defended this one, so I figure I’ll give it a shot.
- On Architecture: Collected Reflections on a Century of Change – Ada Louise Huxtable – $3.99 – Suggested by upcoming podcast-guest Phillip Lopate (in a list in the back of his collection To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction). I loved Ms. Huxtable’s segments in the great New York documentary by Ric Burns.
- A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig & Other Essays – Charles Lamb – $2.99 – Another suggestion from Mr. Lopate.
David Carr has a good piece in the NYTimes today about the public’s lack of interest in the U.S. government’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to assassinate people. You should read it. Drone warfare came up in my podcast interview with Ron Rosenbaum, and will again in next week’s interview with Fred Kaplan. (ADDENDUM: Check out this New Yorker piece by Teju Cole on drone strikes and Obama’s literary habits.)
During the snowstorm this past Friday/Saturday, I watched all 6 hours of the BBC miniseries of John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which was remarkably good. It’s left me a bit averse to watching the 2011 remake, although it has a good cast.
Yesterday, I took an old issue of The Paris Review off my shelf, to read the Art of Fiction interview with Mr. Le Carre conducted by George Plimpton in 1997. Here’s a passage that jumped out at me:
INTERVIEWER: But is espionage not different since the end of the cold war? Do you still keep in touch with spies?
JOHN LE CARRE: I have a few people, Americans mainly, some Israelis. The Brits don’t talk to me. It’s necessary to understand what real intelligence work is. It will never cease. It’s absolutely essential that we have it. At its best, it is simply the left arm of healthy governmental curiosity. It brings to a strong government what it needs to know. It’s the collection of information, a journalistic job, if you will, but done in secret. All the rest of it — intervention, destabilization, assassination, all that junk — is in my view not only anticonstitutional but unproductive and silly. You can never foresee the consequences. But it’s a good job as long as intelligence services collect sensible information and report it to their governments, and as long as that intelligence is properly used, thought about and evaluated.
Then you come to the question of targets of intelligence: what are the proper targets of the CIA? That’s a policy problem. For me, they are much more widespread than you would suppose. I think they should be extended to the ecology, to the pollution of rivers and those things. There is, for example, one plant in northern Russia that disseminates more pollution than the whole of Scandinavia. One plant alone. I think things of that sort as so life-threatening that they should be included in the CIA’s brief. And counterterrorism: you cannot make a case for not spying on terrorist organizations. You’ve got to spy the hell out of them.
But countersubversion — that’s a really murky target. That is when a government defines what political thoughts are poisonous to the nation, and I find that a terribly dangerous area. And then of course the maverick weapons — they’ve been left all over the place, partly by us. I mean, where are the Stingers we gave to the Afghans? Also, if you meddle in people’s affairs, you then have to live with the consequences. Look at Afghanistan. We recruited the Muslim extremist movement to assist us in the fight against Russia, and we let loose a demon. Intervention is a very dangerous game, and it always has consequences, and they are almost always embarrassing.
—Paris Review, The Art of Fiction Interview CXLIX (issue 143, summer 1997)
The line from the last episode of the miniseries keeps swimming up in my head: “I still believe the secret services are the only real expression of a nation’s character.” Apparently, in the book, it reads, “The secret services were the only real measure of a nation’s political health, the only real expression of its subconscious.”
We have so much we fail to learn.