We speak with celebrated British novelist A.S. Byatt about her acclaimed novel, 'The Children's Book'.
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Rebecca Brayton: The Children’s Book is a novel by celebrated British author, A.S. Byatt. The novel is a social and political portrait of the era towards the end of the 19th and turn of the 20th century.
Hi, I’m Rebecca Brayton and welcome to watchmojo.com, and today we’re speaking with Byatt about her book and her writing process.
First off, can you give us a brief synopsis of The Children’s Book.
A.S. Byatt: It’s a difficult book to give a synopsis of. It has a very large number of characters. Some of whom, our children at the beginning of the book in 1895 and some young adults at the end of the book in 1919; it works on various levels. It tells some of the fairy stories and there's a level at which it is a fairy story and there's another level at which it is social history and there’s another level at which it is sort of people’s personal histories and how they entwine with each other.
Rebecca Brayton: Tell us about writing The Children’s Book and maybe how the writing of it was different or the same as your other novels?
A.S. Byatt: It’s a book which required an enormous amount of research and the research was intensely pleasurable because it’s a period about which I knew nothing, really. I know lots about the high Victorians in the 1830s and 1840s, but I always rather disliked this generation of socialists and bright young things. I thought they were all rather silly and the righteous were more silly than the ones before them or the ones after them.
And I had to do it, I had to research on Germany because a lot of the characters go to Munich, and then I had to do a lot of online political history researches because it ends up with the First World War and you’ve done enough research when you get around to finding books mentioned in footnotes that you have already read.
Rebecca Brayton: You seem very adamant that you'll never write a quote me book, can you explain to us why that is and what a ‘me book’ is exactly?
A.S. Byatt: I do believe writing ought not to be self-expression. I think if all you want to do is express yourself, you should probably go work in a hospital or be a social worker, which is the kind of fate I was brought up to believe was the best fate. I was brought up by the ‘quakers’ who believed very, very strongly that you shouldn’t be self-centered.
I also have read enormous numbers of books by young women who simply wanted to describe their feelings and lives and I don't know quite why you would write a story about your own feelings except when you might feel they weren’t real, I mean, you’d make them real that way. But I think a good novel, all the novels that have love leap out, it tries to understand what the world is and put it together in a new shape.