Just write: Something that will be there, always, Like Tomorrow's Sky... | Daily News

Just write: Something that will be there, always, Like Tomorrow's Sky...

Author Kazuo Ishiguro from "Never Let Me Go" poses for a portrait during the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival  (Photo by Matt Carr/Getty Images)
Author Kazuo Ishiguro from "Never Let Me Go" poses for a portrait during the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival (Photo by Matt Carr/Getty Images)

It's tempting to begin the new year writing about writing – the art of it, the craft of it. Writers of serious literature (according to, at least, many writers of serious literature) do not simply type enthralling words onto blank computer screens; instead, 'they stare into an abyss and reach into their souls and find, if they are fortunate, the swirling fires of Prometheus'. True enough, writing could be exciting, but it is for the most part simply work. It’s often lonely. It’s rarely romantic. (Take yours truly for example. The whole world including even the stars are fast asleep, as I type away to meet my Thursday's deadline). Like how writer Megan Garber puts it, “Writing is a craft in the way that carpentry is a craft: There’s art to it, sure, and a certain inspiration required of it, definitely, but for the most part you’re just sawing and sanding and getting dust in your eyes.”

Until you win the Nobel prize for literature. Like how the British author Kazuo Ishiguro won it last year. Obviously, the dust in his eyes was so thick he refused to see what was right in front of his at first. “It was completely not something I expected, otherwise I would have washed my hair this morning,” he said with a laugh recalling the day he heard the great news. Then he added, “A part of me feels like I’m too young to be winning something like this. But then I suddenly realized that I’m 62, so I am average age for this I suppose.”

Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of The Swedish Academy, explaining the Committee’s choice of Ishiguro as Noble Laureate in literature, 2017, said “If you mix Jane Austen and Franz Kafka then you have Kazuo Ishiguro in a nutshell, but you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix. Then you stir, but not too much, and you have his writings.”

No doubt, this is high, and accurate, praise — but as one critic observes, it came only after Ishiguro was dedicated enough to sit down, put pen to page, and create those awful sentences, hideous dialogue, and scenes that went nowhere. And now he has a Nobel Prize to show for it.

Ishiguro's journey thus far began in Nagasaki in 1954. At the age of five he moved with his family to the small town of Guildford, in southern England. As revealed in the Paris Review, he didn’t return to Japan for twenty-nine years. (His Japanese, he says, is “awful.”) At twenty-seven he published his first novel,A Pale View of Hills(1982), set largely in Nagasaki, to near unanimous praise. His second novel, An Artist of the Floating World(1986), won Britain’s prestigious Whitbread award. And his third,The Remains of the Day(1989), sealed his international fame. It sold more than a million copies in English, won the Booker Prize, and was made into a Merchant Ivory movie starring Anthony Hopkins, with a screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Ishiguro was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and, for a while, his portrait hung at 10 Downing Street. The author of three more acclaimed novels— The Unconsoled (1995), When We Were Orphans(2000) and Never Let Me Go(2005)—Ishiguro has also written screenplays and teleplays, and composed lyrics.

According to Susannah Hunnewell who interviewed him for the Paris Review, Ishiguro lives in a pleasant white stucco house in London’s Golders Green with daughter, Naomi, and his wife, Lorna, a former social worker. He writes in a small office upstairs with rows of color-coded binders neatly stacked in cubbyholes. Copies of his novels in Polish, Italian, Malaysian, and other languages line one wall. On the other are books for research—for example,Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt.

Looking back on the details of his life, especially the guitar-playing hippie days, he said to the Paris Review, he wrote his college essays using disembodied phrases separated by full stops. “This was encouraged by professors,” he recalled. “Apart from one very conservative lecturer from Africa. But he was very polite. He would say, Mr. Ishiguro, there is a problem about your style. If you reproduced this on the examination, I would have to give you a less-than-satisfactory grade.”

When asked if there were any writing from his youth that were never published, he said, “After university, when I was working with homeless people in west London, I wrote a half-hour radio play and sent it to the BBC. It was rejected but I got an encouraging response. It was kind of in bad taste, but it’s the first piece of juvenilia I wouldn’t mind other people seeing. It was called “Potatoes and Lovers.” When I submitted the manuscript, I spelled potatoes incorrectly, so it said potatos. It was about two young people who work in a fish-and-chips café. They are both severely cross-eyed, and they fall in love with each other, but they never acknowledge the fact that they’re cross-eyed.”

Elaborating further he said, “This was a time when I was starting to think about what my career was going to be. I’d failed to make it as a musician. I’d had lots of appointments with A&R people. After two seconds, they’d say, It’s not going to happen, man. So I thought I’d have a go at a radio play.

“Then, almost by accident, I came across a little advertisement for a creative-writing M.A. taught by Malcolm Bradbury at the University of East Anglia. Today it’s a famous course, but in those days it was a laughable idea, alarmingly American. I discovered subsequently that it hadn’t run the previous year because not enough people had applied. Somebody told me Ian McEwan had done it a decade before. I thought he was the most exciting young writer around at that point. But the primary attraction was that I could go back to university for a year, fully funded by the government, and at the end, I would only have to submit a thirty-page work of fiction. I sent the radio play to Malcolm Bradbury along with my application.

“I was slightly taken aback when I was accepted, because it suddenly became real. I thought, these writers are going to scrutinize my work and it’s going to be humiliating. Somebody told me about a cottage for rent in the middle of nowhere in Cornwall that had previously been used as a rehabilitation place for drug addicts. I called up and said, I need a place for one month because I’ve got to teach myself to write. And that’s what I did that summer of 1979. It was the first time I really thought about the structure of a short story. I spent ages figuring out things like viewpoint, how you tell the story, and so on. At the end I had two stories to show, so I felt more secure.”

He remembers that one of the stories he showed the class was set in Nagasaki at the time the bomb dropped, and it was told from the point of view of a young woman. “I got a tremendous boost to my confidence from my fellow students. They all said, This Japanese stuff is really very exciting, and you’re going places.” After that, he had got a letter from Faber accepting three of his stories for their Introduction series. Thus was launched his writing career.

Winning the Nobel Prize, however, is something he takes in his stride. All he wants is to continue to write. “I just hope I don’t get lazy or complacent, I hope my work won’t change.”

With just four days into the new year, it seems right to conclude with Ishiguro's words in 'When We Were Orphans'. Here then is an apt new year resolution for all of us.

“All I know is that I've wasted all these years looking for something, a sort of trophy I'd get only if I really, really did enough to deserve it. But I don't want it anymore, I want something else now, something warm and sheltering, something I can turn to, regardless of what I do, regardless of who I become. Something that will just be there, always, like tomorrow's sky. That's what I want now, and I think it's what you should want too.”

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