Lloyd Jones

by Denis Welch / 29 December, 2007
If any New Zealander has had a terrific year, it's Lloyd Jones. On top of making the Man Booker shortlist, his novel Mister Pip has just been named in the Economist - with well over a million influential subscribers - as one of the year's top reads. We asked Jones, currently in Europe on his Creative New Zealand Berlin Residency, what it's like to have all your Christmases come at once.

Is annus mirabilis too strong a term to describe the year you've just had? It's been a great year. But I don't need or wish for a repeat.

Runners-up in shows like American Idol often go on to greater success than the winners do. Has it been so bad not winning the Booker? It has not been bad at all. Mister Pip enjoyed all the benefits of being a frontrunner or favourite and none of the downside, such as the endless publicity and gruelling travel required of the outright winner.

Amid all the prizegivings and media exposure, were you able to stay in touch with the original Lloyd Jones? Unfortunately, he lacks the grace to just bugger off. For better or worse, I'm stuck with him.

Are writers designed for this kind of whirligig life? Some may be. Some may even like it. More still prefer a monastic existence, especially the wine part.

In the course of it all, did you find time to write a single line of new work? Either side of the Booker period, there were those lovely periods of dull idleness in which writers thrive. But then there were longer periods when I had to put everything aside and smile for the camera.

Is there anything you can tell us about work in progress? I have two projects on the go. Prose, and some essays. They represent preoccupations rather than "progress".

How many places have you been since Mister Pip was published? The BNZ in Lower Hutt, the pharmacy in Cuba Mall for jetlag remedies (none of them work), Bath in Jamaica (oldest botanical garden in the northern hemisphere) for a 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery ceremony, Musée D'Orsay in Paris, snarling at mobs of harebrained tourists holding cameras up to paintings, Amsterdam, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Dresden, Sydney for the writers' festival, London for the Booker, Los Angeles (a delay; is there another reason?), Toronto for the Harbourfront International Festival of Writers, Buckingham Palace for a chat, and a pile of other places I've forgotten.

How many countries/languages is it now being published in? It's up to 31 countries. I'm counting on the domino effect.

Are you over Mister Pip? Is it over for the writer, in fact, as soon as they've written the last line? Like, the rest is just window-dressing? It's "over" in the imaginative sense. But you still need to stand by what you've written, and to remain engaged by it. A builder probably feels the same way. He can look back at his last house, and discuss it in full, while his head is spinning with the next project.

Berlin in winter. Describe. It is very grey and very still. The trees have lost their leaves. There are fewer cyclists on the bike paths. Three degrees is today's high. Now, that's a whole degree warmer than two, and you notice the difference. It is dark by four. I spend much of my days and nights by lamplight. I may well be turning into a moth.

Where are you living, and what's it like? A leafy cobbled studenty neighbourhood in the old east part of the city. No one is over 30. I've been given a special visa. Down below is a florist, and a hair salon that doubles as a bar, and further along a café with this notice in the window: "Come and try our sandwiches. Nobody likes a coward."

As a former sports columnist, what did you think of the All Blacks' performance in the Rugby World Cup? The World Cup rarely rewards the best team or reveals the best in rugby. All the same, I felt sorry for the All Blacks. Given the new heights they had taken the game to, they deserved better.

And Graham Henry's reappointment? One of the more sensible and mature decisions taken in New Zealand. Collectively, Henry, Smith, Hansen bring huge rugby intellect and experience. We are lucky to have them.

If you could give someone a great book to read this summer, what would it be? Animal's People, by Indra Sinha, a Booker-shortlisted title, and wonderful.


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