Interview with Michael Ridpath, author of Amnesia
22 Jun 2017
What can you tell us about your new release, Amnesia?
An old man living by a loch in Scotland hits his head and forgets everything. The granddaughter of a friend of his, Clémence, is tasked with looking after him and prodding his memory. She finds a memoir written by him that confesses to killing “the only woman he ever loved”, a Frenchwoman who turns out to be her grandmother. Shocked, she decides to read the memoir, hoping to jog his memory.
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
Any Human Heart by William Boyd. This is a brilliant fictional biography of the life of Logan Mountstuart from the age of 18 to 85. It inspired me to write the fictional memoir within Amnesia.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a great novel is so many ways. In particular I love the way it portrays a tight group of twenty-year-old friends dealing with a major crisis.
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow is beautifully written and also contains the best “whodunit” in plain sight.
Money by Émile Zola was written in the 1860s, but could have described the financial world of the turn of the twenty-first century. Zola nails the competitiveness and self-delusion rather than simple greed that characterizes ruthless money-men.
Ghost by Robert Harris is about a ghost writer of a British Prime Minister’s memoirs. A story of great twists and verve set in Martha’s Vineyard in winter.
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
I would like to ask John Grisham how he writes books that so many people want to read. I would force him to be specific, with specific examples, and I would take very careful notes.
What’s a typical day like for you?
We have recently moved from a house just on the edge of London to a flat right in the middle, and I’m enjoying it. I write from home. So I start writing at eight o’clock, reading through the previous two days’ work. After about nine-thirty I stroll to a coffee shop and think a bit about what I am writing. I return home and write until lunch time. Then I go for a walk for about an hour, through Kensington Gardens, or along the Regents Canal, or through Holland Park. In the afternoon, I do the increasing amount of non-writing work involved in publishing these days, and swear at the glitches in my computer. And in the evening my wife gets home from work, and I cook dinner or we go out. Since the weather has got better, we have started taking a bottle of rosé and a picnic to Kensington Gardens.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
If you are lucky enough at some point in your career to receive a big advance, save most of it.
BAM. You’re a superhero. What’s your superpower?
Stop people getting angry on social media, or newspapers and TV for that matter. An angry mind makes poor decisions. As does an angry populace.
What scene in Amnesia was your favorite to write?
I wrote three or four chapters set in Capri in 1939 and 1947 when my old man visits the island with his friends. I had been to Capri twice in the past, and I went to the British Library and did a lot of research on the island in the middle of the twentieth century. I tried to write the chapters without visiting the place. They were OK, but they weren’t quite good enough. So I explained to my wife that I absolutely had to go to Capri on a research trip the following week. She understood – I love my wife.
I had never researched a place after I had written the relevant scenes in my book before. It made visiting the island, which is beautiful anyway, an amazing experience. By that stage my characters seemed real to me, so I felt I knew the island extremely well, not from my previous two visits, but from having placed my characters there over four chapters. As I walked around the island, I thought to myself: so this is where Tony’s house was; this is the Roman ruin where they went for a picnic, and in particular, this is the Villa Fersen, the ruined folly high up on a ledge in the cliffs, where the eponymous Swedish millionaire playboy gallivanted, and where two of my characters … well, I don’t want to spoil the story.
When I returned to London, I rewrote those scenes, and I think I have ended up with my best effort at describing any of the locations in my novels so far.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
When you have a problem to solve, think about how to solve it first, rather than what the solution is.
Michael Ridpath is the author of the new book Amnesia.Buy The Book
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