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June 11, 2011 12:21 am

Small talk: Graham Swift

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Born in 1949, Graham Swift was brought up in Croydon, London, and studied at Cambridge and York universities. His first novel was The Sweet Shop Owner (1980); he went on to write Shuttlecock (1982) and Waterland in 1983. That same year, Swift was named by Granta magazine as one of Britain’s best young novelists. His sixth novel, Last Orders, won the 1996 Booker Prize and was later made into a film starring Michael Caine. Swift is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in London.

Graham Swift

Who is your perfect reader?

Anyone who understands that nothing is perfect.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

The English menu for a French restaurant that described an item as “cooked in a tizzy”.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

I know this sounds like a set-up but it really is a copy of Anna Karenina.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

I wanted to be one from around the age of 10. I knew I was going to be by my mid-twenties.

What book do you wish you’d written?

I’ve admired and loved many books but I’ve never wished I’d written them. Half the thrill of reading a good book is that of entering a world that isn’t yours.

What is your daily writing routine?

I get up very early and take an eight-cup cafetière of black coffee to my desk.

What do you snack on while you write?

Sometimes a banana.

What music helps you write?

I never listen to music while writing, but I think music and writing are inseparable. Anything from the construction of a sentence to the construction of a novel can have its musical aspect and so much of writing is about registering the non-verbal.

How do you relax?

I walk.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I’m such an unenthusiastic researcher that I find the act of researching a book strange in itself.

Which literary character most resembles you?

I once said I’d like to be Dr Watson rather than Sherlock Holmes. You’d share all the adventures and get to tell the stories.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

My wife.

What are you scared of?

Motor cars.

When do you feel most free?

When I realise how amazingly free I actually am.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

I wouldn’t let the world know.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

Let the saw do the work.


If you could own any painting, what would it be?

A still life by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin.

What are you most proud of writing?

Wish You Were Here . It’s always your latest book that makes you the most proud – you feel amazed to have gone through the whole extraordinary enterprise – but I’m proud of everything I’ve published.

What does it mean to be a writer?

To have the great good fortune and all the joy and vulnerability of doing something that you love.

Graham Swift’s latest novel is ‘Wish You Were Here’ (Picador)

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