William Boyd is to write the next book in the James Bond franchise. The as yet untitled novel
will be published next autumn. To mark the announcement, Daisy Dunn casts her mind back to a recent encounter with Boyd, where he spoke about the art of imagining and writing a
It’s an ambitious eight minute walk from St. Hilda’s College to the Master’s Garden of Christ Church, where William Boyd is preparing to appear at the Oxford Literary Festival.
He’s visibly bracing himself. It’s quite a walk from there to the stage – the kind of walk you’d make at a school prize-giving. A formal path for such an unassuming man. I imagine
him making the journey I’ve just done over the bridge from St. Hilda’s, where he was an English lecturer, in 1981. That was the year his first novel, the highly acclaimed "http://www.amazon.co.uk/Good-Man-Africa-William-Boyd/dp/0141046899/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334231018&sr=1-1">A Good Man in Africa was published.
Time has waxed on, but as Boyd finally makes it to the stage he reveals that that chapter of his life is far from over; a new, Africa inspired novel is in the pipeline. As he discusses (this time
without the weight of a publisher’s embargo) the inspiration for his latest novel, Waiting for
Sunrise, again it’s the fine balance between the scholar’s rigour and the novelist’s imagination that comes to the fore. Quoting Iris Murdoch, he describes his writing
process as a long period of invention followed by a shorter period of composition. His ‘invention’ period is often contradictory, consisting both in collecting maps from the era in
which the novel is to be set, old photographs, travel guides, guidebooks, ephemera – the trawling scholar – and in doing that least scholarly of things – skirting round the
primary evidence; Boyd reveals that he has never visited many of the cities in which he sets his novels, ‘I don’t feel I need to go somewhere to write about it.’
‘As a writer you need to be able to express yourself lucidly, or complicatedly, to have a relish for observation – people who don’t take anything from the arena of life
won’t make real writers – and a well-functioning imagination….My imagination is probably going to produce something as close to the truth as possible, whatever that is, as,
unlike a scholar, I’m not bound by facts’.
He’d never visited Manila, where his book Blue
Afternoon is set, but soon after it was published he received a letter from a Manilan advertising agency, curious about his time there. They give the book to new clients, they told him, as
an introduction to the area. He recalls another dupe, this one intentional, which gave rise to his fantastic book "http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nat-Tate-American-Artist-1928-1960/dp/1408814463/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1334231049&sr=1-1">Nat Tate, the monograph of a fictional artist
(National Gallery, Tate Gallery) he fabricated with David Bowie and convinced the New York art world had actually existed.
Waiting for Sunrise is a different kind of book, partly, perhaps, because its long, gestational invention grew out of a trip to the place where several chapters of it are set: Vienna. It
wasn’t until recently that Boyd visited, but his obsession with the city began when he studied Wittgenstein ‘a classic Viennese man’ at university, and wrote a short story.
Armadillo followed in 1998. But standing on the balcony of the Freud Museum with its timeless view on his recent first visit gave birth to a fresh idea. What sort of person might have stood and
enjoyed that view before him? Why is he there, how tall is he, what’s his profession? As he comes to write the book the space becomes the waiting room, not to Freud’s surgery, but to
that of a fictional psychiatrist, Dr. Bensimon, schooled in Freud’s methods. Boyd the author observing the view becomes an actor called Lysander Rief, who suffers from anorgasmia, an
inability to ejaculate. Suddenly it’s 1913. Just as suddenly, experience gives way to imagination.
William Boyd reads a short passage. Lysander is waiting to see the psychiatrist. It’s not the raciest or tensest, but just about the only part of the novel traceable back to that initial root
of inspiration and personal experience. The setting dissolves surprisingly quickly into a complex network of pan European developments, from trench warfare to espionage on the banks of the river
Thames, escapism, in the unlikeliest of ways, from a feverish love affair in Vienna.
Lysander’s journey in Waiting for Sunrise isn’t merely geographical. His is the kind of path trodden by many young men at this time, ‘the journey’, Boyd says,
‘to becoming a modern man’. ‘I feel, after what I have gone through, that I understand a little of our modern world now, as it exists today. And perhaps I’ve been offered a
glimpse into its future’, says Lysander Rief towards the end of the novel. As Boyd rises to a raucous applause, one’s left wondering, how far different is writing without the
perspective of a particular place, to writing with the perspective of time? Or vice versa? Boyd’s forthcoming book, in which it seems he will go back, imaginatively or otherwise, to his
erstwhile home in Africa, should make for an intriguing follow-up.