Actusf : First, how did you become a writer ? When was it that you knew you wanted to become a writer ?
Graham Joyce : I was a poet at first. Gradually I moved away. Whenever I looked at the lives of the great poets I found out that most of them were complete shits. It seems to me more important to be a decent human being than to be a decent writer. Anyway, I come from a very working class (coal mining) background so it seemed a somewhat pretentious or arrogant to declare a writing ambition. So for years I wrote in secret. Then I shocked myself by starting to believe I might be published.
Actusf : How do you work on your novels ? Do you prepare a precise plan ?
Graham Joyce : No. It’s an excavation. I don’t know how each novel is going to come out, which is probably why they keep turning out differently.
Actusf : Let's talk about your novels. How came the idea of the Stormwatcher ?
Graham Joyce : A group of friends had a holiday in the Perigord in the middle of summer. The house was very atmospheric and the weather was odd, too. Each morning there was thick radiation mist which burned away by mid-morning. Then there were electrical storms we could see from miles away. It was all so different from the English summer landscape. One day I saw one of my friends speaking to one of the young girls, but through the dressing-table mirror. It all unfolded from their. But I have to add that all the people I was on holiday with were beautifully well behaved. Not like those in the novel.
Actusf : Let's talk about Jessie. It's a very strange little girl, doing strange things like knocking her head into a door. How do you see her ?
Graham Joyce : She has a form of autism, but she’s a functioning autistic child. Autism exists on a spectrum. Many people are mildly autistic. Some without knowing it.
Actusf : There's a lot of tension between characters of this book. But it seems that many problems comes to an answer (e.g. the father coming back eventually). Is that because you are an optimist ?
Graham Joyce : I am an optimist, in spite of everything, in spite of the evidence. But if we lose hope we may as well give up and put the human race out of its misery.
Actusf : The book takes place in France, so you really can't avoid that question : Is it a area that you know well and that you like ? Does the fact that it takes place in France matters ?
Graham Joyce : I only know it from having stayed there on the holiday. It’s a beautiful part of France. But I did get tired of hearing snooty English people braying from every corner. If there weren’t so many of those I would like to go and live there. I am rather intrigued by France and the French. The fact that I set it in France allowed me to make comments about class consciousness and snobbery of the English. It all becomes revealed in greater relief when the English are abroad.
Actusf : About The Limits of Enchantment. Again, how came the idea of this book ?
Graham Joyce : Several years ago I bought a painting by a Midlands artist called Angela Harding. It has hung on my living room wall for maybe twelve years or more, asking to be unravelled. It’s called Listening To The Hare and its has strange pagan messages inside it. It just took a long time to come out, but I’ve faced the wonderful mystery of that painting every day and sure enough a story came.
Actusf : Why were you attracted by English country of the 60's ?
Graham Joyce : In 1966 abortion became legal in England. It was a watershed piece of legislation for women’s politics. Before that, working class women had to use back-street abortionists or “wise women” in the neighbourhood. All very secret. For me the legislation represents a dividing of modernity from the past, and the 60s were a time of incredible social change; yet in the country people were living lives that had been little changed for 150 years. Fern was a character who had to deal with that change.
Actusf : In The Stormwatcher, the main character is a little girl. Is it difficult for a writer to think like a child ?
Graham Joyce : A writer always tried to “make it new”. Thinking like a child, seeing the miraculous world afresh is part of the challenge, whether or not you are writing about children. It’s the writer’s job to help us to see things in a new light. Perhaps we are always trying to recover the world as it appeared to us when we were children.
Actusf : About "The Facts of Life", your most appreciated book in France. Same question, how came the idea of this novel ?
Graham Joyce : Coventry is a strange city. It was beautiful before it was bombed in the war and now it is rather ugly. But the ghosts of how it was before the war appear all over the city in the form of ruins or even small fragments of the ruins. I wanted to write about my home town.
Actusf : Little Frank had a quite strange journey. How did you build your story ?
Graham Joyce : I had an image of a boy growing up while town planners argued over his head about how to build the new city; and so the women too argued about how to bring up a boy. The story is a sequence of compromises and accidents that defy the rational plan.
Actusf : A journalist said that he found in this novel Dickens, John Irving, Ian McEwan, Robertson Davies and Paul Auster. Does that please you ? Are they important writers for you ?
Graham Joyce : Well Dickens is magnificent because he can be so funny about very serious situations. I love the balance of levity and gravity. John Irving too has that wonderful quality. Ian McEwan less so: he has no humour. He did have humour in his early work but he lost it when everyone told him what an important writer he was.
Actusf : It is often said that your novels are very psychological. Do you agree ? Often the story takes mainly place into character's mind.
Graham Joyce : They are psychological, but I try to keep the door open for the irrational. Some readers need to think that everything magical takes place in the character’s mind, but I try to plant seeds of doubt. I want the reader to feel uncertainty, because this is when the reader is most vulnerable to imagination.
Actusf : There's often much tension into your character's relationship. Why are you so interrested in this conflicts ? Is it the way your characters confront them ? Or maybe the way they evolve ?
Graham Joyce : Character is defined in conflict, not in repose.
Actusf : Your novels are oftenly said to be at the edge of fantastic. Are you aware of that while writing or is it unintentional ?
Graham Joyce : Yes it is intentional. This goes back to what I said about the war between the rational and the irrational. If you want a novel of so-called realism you make the human beings larger than the forces around them, which is absurd. I mean social and psychological forces here. I’m not even referring to supernatural forces. On the other hand if you pitch the novel deep into the fantastic, with no way out of the hermetically-sealed conceit of fantasy, you allow the reader to get too comfortable with the notion that this is only a kind of fabulous dream. So I like to put the drama on the edge of the fantastic. Not in; not out.
Actusf : You received many awards. Does it matters ? Does it have a particular meaning ?
Graham Joyce : Well it’s gratifying but it doesn’t change anything about how you work or how easy or hard it is. I always feel each novel doesn’t quite do what I wanted it to when I started out, and the awards don’t convince me that I did the job as well as I might have done.
Actusf : All your novels are quite different. Is that because you never want to tell twice the same story ?
Graham Joyce : Exactly that. It has to be an exploration, something that comes out of smoke and lamplight.
Actusf : You are giving writing lessons to students. Does it influence your own writings ?
Graham Joyce : Oh I hope not. I often like to rationalise the craft issues, a d this pushes your thinking about the novels to the front-brain, whereas the first draft should spring from the back-brain. I hope not to be strangled by over –rationalising the process.
Actusf : Is there an advice that you would give to young french writers ?
Graham Joyce : Throw out all your socks. Then buy twelve pairs exactly the same. This will save hours and hours rooting through the sock drawer trying to find a matching pair. You can use all this saved time for writing because you will need it: for persistence is as important as talent.