Today I’m very pleased to host a Q&A with Richard Lloyd Parry who has been shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize for his brilliant book Ghosts of the Tsunami – one of the best books I read in 2017. It is a narrative non-fiction account about the aftermath of the tsunami which devastated the east coast of Japan on 11th March 2011 and how it impacted a small community where many people lost their lives. I’m very pleased that this riveting book has recently been shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize – a relatively new literary award in which 60 fiction and non-fiction books are nominated by members of the Folio Academy and then whittled down to a shortlist of eight. This year’s list also includes two novels I have read and enjoyed very much: Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor.
Q&A with Richard Lloyd Parry
1. At what age did you know you wanted to become a writer?
Eighteen. I thought that wanted to direct plays, but brief experience at university made me realise how dependent theatre is on the temperamental peculiarities of other people. I prefer to work alone, or in a small team.
2. Was your first book published or is it still lurking in a drawer somewhere?
Putting aside the work of the teenage years (a sequence of erotic sonnets; a volume of protest songs about Margaret Thatcher), my first book was a travel guide to Japan published in 1995, sadly out of print. Second-hand copies are bought and sold online for handfuls of pounds.
3. What was your favourite childhood book?
Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World.
4. What is your ‘ if you don’t like this, you can’t be my friend’ book?
I’ve lost a small number of friends over the years, but never over a book.
5. Do you find the process of writing agony or ecstasy?
At worst, it’s hard work of a peculiar kind – solving problems that only exist because you have created them for yourself. Moments of hopelessness come, but they eventually pass. I’ve experienced high excitement when writing, but the history of ecstasy suggests that it’s a highly suspect emotion, not conducive to wise decision making.
6. Who, in your opinion is the most under-read author?
If you mean, an author whom people buy, but don’t actually read, then obviously Stephen Hawking. If you mean underrated or under-appreciated, then perhaps Lafcadio Hearn.
7. Who or what have been your most important influences?
My parents. My seven years as a foreign correspondent on ‘The Independent’. ‘Granta’, under the editorships of Bill Buford and Ian Jack. The great Poles, Conrad and Kapuscinski.
8. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be a little lost.
9. How long did it take you to write the book that is shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize?
Something over a year in aggregate, spread, sometimes rather thinly, over six and a half years.
You can read Q&As with the other shortlisted authors here.
Richard Lloyd Parry is shortlisted for the 2018 Rathbones Folio Prize for ‘Ghosts of the Tsunami’ (Jonathan Cape). The winner will be announced on Tuesday 8th May.
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