Saskatoon writer Yann Martel has stepped back onto world literature's centre stage with a quirky new animal novel about the darkest subject imaginable, John Barber wrote in The Globe and Mail earlier this week.
Mr. Martel's latest book, Beatrice and Virgil, has been highly anticipated - fetching a $3-million advance - after his 2001 novel, Life of Pi, won Britain's Man Booker Prize and went on to sell an astounding seven million copies worldwide.
We're pleased Mr. Martel was able to join us for a live discussion. Read the transcript of your questions and his answers below:
Peter Scowen: Hello and welcome to our live discussion with Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi and now his long-awaited new novel, Beatrice and Virgil. If all has gone technologically well, Mr. Martel is standing by to take readers' questions, which will be moderated by me. I'm Peter Scowen, editor of Globe Books online.
11:00 Yann Martel: Hello, everyone. Greetings from New York.
11:02 Peter Scowen: Hi Yann. An opening question: Beatrice & Virgil is a book about an author searching for a way to write about the Holocaust. What prompted you to want to write about such a huge, difficult and inevitably controversial subject?
11:04 Yann Martel: Several reasons. A longstanding fascination with the Holocaust. A desire to comment on it, to wrestle with it in the way an artist does, with his imagination. ANd more simply: because a story came to me, one concerning a taxidermist. I wanted to tell that story.
11:04 [Comment From JaneJane: ]
Hello, Mr. Martel. I met you at your book launch in St. John's a few days ago. I've started reading Beatrice and Virgil and am enjoying it. Near the beginning of the book, Henry mentions that he "has" to write which, he suggests, is a shared characteristics of writers. Do you feel a compulsion to write? Is it really something you feel that you have no choice but to do?
11:07 Yann Martel: No, it's not a compulsion. If it were, I'd have written more books that I have, only four in 20 years. I "have" to write in the sense that it's my way of understanding life. I get a sense of satisfaction in seeing life through the prism of stories. So in writing Life of Pi, for example, I came to understand how and what I feel about faith and religion. It clarified my thinking. And in a similar way with B & V: it helped me understand the Holocaust and how we represent great tragedy. Writing is my way of studying life. It's a thoughtful process, therefore, not a compulsive one.
11:07 [Comment From Andrew BryceAndrew Bryce: ]
Mr. Martel, how do your stories come to you? when you have inspiration, how do you know that one idea is a "good" idea? Is it a feeling akin to that which people often attribute to "true love"? The idea that "I saw her and I just knew"?
11:11 Yann Martel: Good comparison, that, with "true love". But no, not quite, because true love can fade and come to be just fleeting lust. With a good story, the love just keeps on growing. A story for me does start with a moment of inspiration, a germ, that strikes me as wealthy with possibilities. So I quickly tend to it, writing it down so I don't forget it. Then starts a lengthy process of thinking, thinking, thinking in which I go over the idea, looking at it from every angle. Usually then I do research. I very much believe in the writer doing research, to get out of the trap of his/her small mind. I do research, which gives me further ideas, which leads me to further research. And onwards until I have all the material needed for a novel. So it starts with a single germ and then carefully tending turns it into a full garden. So gardening might be a better metaphor rather than love.
11:12 [Comment From MicahMicah: ]