Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Conn Iggulden - Emirates Airlines Literary Festival


Notes from Conn Iggulden at the Emirates Airlines Literary Festival

- as always these are notes and therefore inherently flawed - so please don't take them as a precise account of the talk.

Historical Fiction at Its Best

Conn began with the statement that a true story has power that fiction can struggle to achieve. He spoke about Scott and read an extract of his letter home to his wife about raising their son – (I was incredibly moved) and Conn stated that because it was ‘real’ it was more powerful.

He is fascinated with what a single person can do in a lifetime.

Before becoming a published writer he was an English teacher for seven years. His mum was a history teacher and his great grandfather was a Seanchai (a traditional Irish story teller – the one who passed down the tales orally).

Conn believes a story can be useful as well as entertaining. While he was standing in for an absent teacher he read about Caesar and heads – he was hooked. He then told us about Caesar being captured by pirates at 19 then when free meting out his revenge being a man of his word. Conn pointed out that you couldn’t make this stuff up and be taken seriously.

He also said that because these actions took place so long ago that it seems okay even though they were appalling. He provided a quote by Chesterton I think Pen couldn’t keep up – apologies) …I can forgive many sins if a life is interesting enough…

With regard to his own writing practices he never starts with a blank page – he starts with golden lines of history and he joins them up. The Difficulty is the he has to make things up because, as well as the events, you need the motivation and to fill in the blanks and this is where you fall foul of the enthusiast, but choices have to made.

Conn loves those periods of history when one person changed the world.

He said that history can change on the single word of a single man.

He then spoke of Genghis Khan and his attraction to write about him:

-greatest rags to riches story ever

-father when he was 11 and the family was abandoned

-utter poverty and expectation of certain death to grandson becoming the emperor of the most powerful country at that time

He is fascinated by the fuel that energizes leaders

-missing male figures

-the men they are produced by are cold and distant figures

Conn began writing at thirteen with a fantasy book about a dragon. He feels that to be a writer you have to know about people – almost withdrawn so that you can observe people. He wrote a book a year then just resorted to sending just the beginnings and sent them off. Finally one asked for the rest of the book and he couldn’t remember which one he had sent them.

He quoted Robert Hindley

Read a lot

Write a lot

Send away

Then added never be precious about your work.

Accept that there is an element of luck – for him it was the fact that the film Gladiator had just come out so people were interested in the Romans.

Conn then spoke about writing A DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS. He went looking for the books of his childhood like 101 Chemical Amusements for Boys and found they didn’t exist so he spent 6 months working in the shed with his brother…the book is less dangerous and more curious without limits….

He was asked who inspired him – James Clavell with Tai-Pan, Bernard Cornwell, the Hornblower books.

He said the more books you read the more you can see what works…

your heart pounds because…

you care about something because…

He loves writing history because the plot is taken care of – but people care about people so the core of a book has to be about characters and ones you can care about.

If a reader is upset or thrilled he has done his job.

For research he does travel. Initially he thought he could write without seeing, but found that he needed to see it, smell it ….for example without it he would never have understood that he could travel at 60 miles an hour for eight hours and still be in the same valley.

I could have listened to Conn speak for hours – he was enchanting amusing and so interesting. One hour was far too short. Conn's website is here.

1 comment:

Debs said...

Thank you for these brilliant notes, Liz.

I've watched Conn on The Book Show and can imagine he would be fascinating to actually go and listen to at a Literary Festival.