April 18, 2009 1:08 am

Small Talk: James Lasdun

james lasdun

“My father taught me everything I know about being – or trying to be – an artist,” says James Lasdun. The son of British architect Sir Denys Lasdun, he was born in London in 1958. He writes poetry, screenplays, short stories and novels, including Seven Lies , which made the Man Booker Prize longlist in 2005. The next year he won Britain’s first National Short Story Competition with “An Anxious Man”. Married with two children, he lives near Woodstock in New York.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?
Etgar Keret’s three-page story “Fatso”, about a guy whose girlfriend turns into a cheerful, chubby man every night. It still makes me laugh when I think of it.

Where do you write best?
I have a room in a barn looking out over woods and mountains. It’s peaceful with a steady procession of wildlife – deer, turkeys, groundhogs and the odd bear.

How do you relax?
Heavy physical labour. In the country there’s always a rock to move or a tree to cut for firewood.

What book changed your life?
My parents gave me a copy of Thom Gunn’s The Sense of Movement. I’d had vague ideas about being a writer but I didn’t know what I wanted to write until I opened that book and read “On the Move”. It’s still a poem I’d give anything to have written.

Are there any books you wish you’d written?
St Mawr (Lawrence), Seize the Day (Bellow), Naked Lunch (William Burroughs), After Leaving Mr MacKenzie (Jean Rhys), The Crying of Lot 49 (Pynchon), Benito Cereno (Melville).

Which literary character resembles you?
I always feel very much among my kind when I step into a Dostoevsky novel.

Who are you literary influences?
Almost anyone Russian. Also Bellow, Kafka, DH Lawrence, Georges Simenon, James M Cain.

When were you happiest?
Writing a walking book in France with my wife and kids. For months we just moved from gîte to gîte. That was pretty blissful.

When did you last cry?
Election night 2008.

What would you go back and change?
I wish I’d lived on a commune – one of the round-the-clock sex, drugs and music kinds.

James Lasdun’s latest book is a short story collection, ‘It’s Beginning to Hurt’ (Jonathan Cape)

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