20 Writerly Questions with Yann Martel

Published: April 7th 2010
in Culture » Books

Yann Martel
Pic: Geoff Howe
Book cover: Beatrice & Virgil
Pic: Random House

Yann Martel is the award-winning author of four previous books, including the recent What is Stephen Harper Reading? Yann Martel is one of Canada’s most interesting and surprising writers. Born in Spain in 1963, Yann grew up in various places as the son of diplomats.  He won the Journey Prize for the title story in The Facts Behind Helsinki RoccamatiosLife of Pi was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.  It was the winner of the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction as well as the Man Booker Prize. His newest novel Beatrice & Virgil is published by Knopf Canada. Yann lives with writer Alice Kuipers and their son in Saskatoon.
1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?


Writer meets taxidermist meets Holocaust.
2. How long did it take you to write this book?


With interruptions, nine years.
3. Where is your favorite place to write?


No favourite place. I just need a chair, a table, my computer and a little peace and quiet.
4. How do you choose your characters’ names?


Carefully, with a mind to what significance the reader might give them.
5. How many drafts do you go through?


Countless. Every day I re-read what I've written and make some small changes. But beyond these countless mini-drafts, Beatrice & Virgil was entirely rethought and rewritten three times.
6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?


Dante's Divine Comedy.
7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?


Anthony Hopkins.
8. What’s your favourite city in the world?


No favourite. Every great city of the world, big or small, has something to offer. Having said that, Paris, Lisbon, Cracow, Mumbai and Montreal are just some of the cities I've loved.
9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?


J. M. Coetzee. How do you do it?
10. When do you write best, morning or night?


No preference.
11. Who is the first person who gets to you read your manuscript?


It varies, but usually a selection of friends and family.
12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?


I don't feel guilt in reading anything.
13. What’s on your nightstand right now?


Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe.
14. What is the first book you remember reading?


Can't remember.
15. Did you always want to be a writer?


No. I fancied myself going into politics when I was a teenager. I would have been a disastrous politician. I'm not patient enough.
16. What do you drink or eat while you write?


Herbal tea, usually.
17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?


Laptop when I'm actually writing, pen and notepad when I'm travelling for research. I don't see why anyone would want to write without a computer. It's so fast and versatile.
18. What do you wear when you write?


Whatever I happened to put on that day, which is usually what I've been wearing for the last week.
19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?


With difficulty.
20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?


Say "I loved your book."










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