Talk: Tom Rachman on identity, writing and finding success
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[July 17, 2014]
By Ngozi Kemjika
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Best-selling
author Tom Rachman plays with identity in his latest novel, ďThe
Rise & Fall of Great Powers,Ē which follows the life of a woman
taken from her home as a young girl and left to wander the world
with an unusual cast of characters.
The book, which comes four years after Rachman's widely
acclaimed debut novel "The Imperfectionists," focuses on Tooly
Zylberberg, the owner of an isolated bookstore in Wales. A
message from an ex-boyfriend sends her on a journey of
Written in reverse chronological order and set around the world,
her past is slowly unraveled. Rachman uses muddy time lines and
historical events to explore what makes us who we are.
Rachman talked with Reuters about identity, success and how life
has inspired his work.
Q: ďThe ImperfectionistsĒ was a huge success. How did you
continue the momentum with this book?
A: You have got to trust your judgment and hope the
features that made your past writing interesting and appealing
will continue to do that for the new book. Itís not about what
people want but itís about what is right and what interests you.
It has to grab you and excite you and thatís what this new book
Q: You have worked as a journalist and have traveled the
world. How has this influenced you as a writer?
A: I have always been interested in seeing the world and
meeting different people or encountering different situations. I
wanted to turn my thoughts into fiction and use those
experiences to broaden what I write.
Q: Why did you give up journalism and start writing
A: The question should be why did I stop writing novels
and start journalism. I entered journalism because I thought I
needed to get some experience and see the world. I thought I
should read and write more before writing stories of my own.
When I got towards the age of 30 I decided to move to Paris and
give up journalism and Iíve been writing novels ever since.
Q: How do you make your stories entertaining?
A: You have to pay attention to writing your story and
ask yourself are the tales intriguing to you as a reader or else
why should they listen. You want your story to be rich with
content but you also want people to keep reading. It doesnít
matter if a story is at times complicated or even demands
something of the reader, it needs to be a great story and thatís
what I aim for.
[to top of second column]
Q: What was the inspiration behind this story?
A: Having lived in several different places and coming from a
family thatís been scattered around the world, for a long time I
never grew up feeling like I was part of any particular culture. I
felt like I had bits of different things in me. If you do have a
strong identity, then you draw part of your sense from the culture
that youíre in. If not, it poses the question, ĎIf I am not made of
one particular culture, do I invent myself, do I change over time?í
Part of the reason I chose to juxtapose the different sections of
the book and different time periods was because I wanted to have the
sharp contrast to think about how people change and how the times
Q: Why did you write about a woman like Tooly Zylberberg?
A: I loved spending time with her, as a character. I donít
like to limit myself with characters. You need to let your readers
experience matters through different experiences than their own. So
I decided to write about my imagined version of another person; that
person was Tooly.
Q: What do you want readers to get from the book?
A: I hope they get the pleasure of reading and I hope they
are left with some of the characters and the ideas. In the
background of the story is the story of our own times, so I hope
itíll be intriguing to people but will also encourage them to think
about how life is now.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Jonathan Oatis)
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