Books & Writing

Kazuo Ishiguro at the Toronto Reference Library

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As a writer, I absolutely love listening to other writers talk about their craft: the way they develop their characters, the things from which they draw their inspiration. All of these factors really give me some insight into what else I can do to better perfect my own writing. So you can see why I was so interested to listen to the literary rockstar, Kazuo Ishiguro, talk about his highly anticipated novel after ten years, The Buried Giant.

Upon welcoming Ishiguro to the stage, he read the first three pages of The Buried Giant to give the audience some insight into the world he would be talking about for the evening. Listening to the author communicate his own writings to us like that put me into a comfortable lull, where I was able to sit back and allow myself to be engulfed by the story. It was quite a beautiful experience.

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The reading was followed by Ishiguro’s explanation of memories and the point of the novel: when is it important for people to collectively forget something and move on, and when is it okay to rake up traumatic past experiences? Do memories haunt or protect an individual’s life? The discussion around this topic was really interesting and made for a thoughtful sort of study group session with the audience. If you’re reading The Buried Giant, I’d keep these questions in mind as you sift your way through the tale and ask them frequently.

At one point, the interviewer brought up the fact that many people who had given The Buried Giant a bad review had done so because Ishiguro had made this world of post-King Arthur England a semi-mythological one which included creatures such as ogres and pixies. Ishiguro addressed this issue by describing how it would have been logical for the people at this time to believe in such creatures when science wasn’t there to give rational explanations. If that was the case, he thought it would make perfect sense to bring these creatures into the novel as tertiary characters that help build the world – which I totally agree with.

In the Q&A session at the end, where the floor was opened up to the audience, one Ishiguro fan asked what the ogres and pixies were in our world, and Ishiguro answered this question in the best possible. He said, “You shouldn’t be concerned with the ogres and the pixies; they’re just extras, they’re not the point. Your question should be ‘what are our buried giants?'”

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While I found the entire talk extremely informative, I found the best bit to be at the end, when Ishiguro talked about how he writes his characters. I always find character development to be an issue for me – stepping back from my own work, I discover that my characters are too flat or not believable enough. But Ishiguro said that when he writes his characters, he doesn’t try to make interesting people with funny quirks; he aims to write characters who have dynamic and believable relationships. This comment really changed my idea of character development and may help me to write better stories.

Overall, having the opportunity to listen to Ishiguro and have him sign my copy of Never Let Me Go was a real honour. I learned a lot and it really inspired me to sit down and write an amazingly deep novel!

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