Ian McEwan, author of Atonement, Saturday and, most recently, the Booker shortlisted On Chesil Beach was one of the most popular drawcards of last month’s Adelaide Writers' Week.
Before a weekday crowd of almost 2000 people, McEwan read from his work-in-progress, a novel about climate change. He told the audience that he figured that ‘the way to write about climate change is to write about a deeply flawed person’. The deeply flawed person at the centre of the book is Michael Beard, a serial womaniser and a specialist in light, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, who believes that solar energy can save the world. McEwan plans for his scientist to be beset by a scandal that will ruin his career.
While he was in Australia, Ian McEwan snatched a few moments from his busy schedule to talk to Readings.
You’ve just spent an extended period of time in Australia prior to your appearance at the Adelaide Festival. Do you have any favourite Australian writers?
Patrick White, Christina Stead, Richard Flanagan, David Malouf and Murray Bail
Your current work-in-progress is about climate change. Do you think literature can have an effect on public consciousness about social issues?
Not directly, at least I don’t expect any novel of mine would lead to a change in policy. At best, novels can hold a mirror up to a situation and, by exploring human nature, perhaps illuminate the roots of the problem.
What did you think of the film version of Atonement? Was the end result a recognisable interpretation of your book, for you? Is it difficult to watch your vision of a book and its characters reshaped by the filmmaker?
I think Joe Wright and Christopher Hampton did a very good job with the 1935 country house scenes in particular, and cut a very clever and economical path through quite difficult material. Joe Wright has a sure touch with the emotional impact of a scene. I think the casting in particular was excellent. Saoirse Ronan was a great discovery and Keira Knightley and James McEvoy were superb. It’s not difficult to watch – at least not, if you believe you’re in good hands. You have to stand back and let the filmmakers do their work and hope for the best.
Do you have any particular writing rituals – ways you structure your work day, or things you do to get the creative juices flowing?
Get at least 7 hours sleep, aim to be at the desk before 10am, one cup of coffee only, resist e-mails and internet, and turn off the phone.