Saturday, 22 August 2015

Louis de Bernieres’ Metaphorical Truth

By Zoe Papageorgiou

In preparation for reviewing “Louis de Bernieres: Ask a Novelist”, I attended the Melbourne Writers Festival Opening Night Address with the hope of formalising the Louis de Bernieres character that I had conjured in my mind. 

I was charmed by the international bestselling author’s anecdotal method of answering the ‘what led you…’ type of audience questions. He entranced us with memories of his past and deepened my understanding of an author’s inspiration by the elucidating the value of the story behind the story. I wondered whether “Ask a Novelist” would take the form of an uncut, behind-the-scenes exclusive version of this address.

Indeed, the session was was initially reminiscent of the author’s opening address. However, the more intimate environment coupled with a pens-poised audience soon encouraged de Bernieres to delve more technically into his writing process.

Patrick Allington (L)  in Discussion with Louis de Bernieres (R)
pic: Zoe Papageorgiou
De Bernieres spoke of the art of crafting a narrative with the ease of a seasoned storyteller. The first stage of the writing process, he suggests, requires the writer to consider the narrative as a form of escapism where the reader, while immersed in another world, searches for metaphorical truth. A writer must provide this metaphorical truth so that the work of fiction is more reminiscent of a believable, personal recount.

De Bernieres candidly shared his belief that the best inspiration for a narrative plot is the discovery of an individual story that yearns to be told, and then fitting this into a historical framework. He spoke of reading his grandmother’s diary entries and moulding The Dust That Falls From Dreams around particular excerpts. When probed on how he developed his own style, he did not shy away from revealing that ‘you become an original by being a bad imitator’. This unabashed response highlighted the importance of diverse and quality reading as a beginning for quality writing.

De Bernieres applauded his editors and stressed the collaborative nature of storytelling even though he believes the editing process increases the writer’s vulnerability.

After the seminar, I lingered to chat with the author and have my battered copy of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin signed. Nervous, I thanked him for his speech in Greek, wondering how the author of a novel entirely set on an Ionian island would react. Surely enough, as if remembering an old but cherished memory, de Bernieres answered me in Greek and again I was left thoroughly impressed not only with his knowledge, but with his innate ability to entrance an international readership and audience.

Edited by April Newton

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