Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro Unveils His Writing Process at 7th Bay Area Book Festival

It’s not often that you hear a Nobel Laureate speak, but on May 2, the Bay Area Book Festival offered just that: an hour-long Zoom conversation with author Kazuo Ishiguro on his new book “Klara and the Sun ”, released on March 2 only. two months ago.

The discussion, however, turned out to be more than just a discussion about a book. Joined by Yaa Gyasi, author of “Homegoing” and “Transcendent Kingdom”, Ishiguro tackled everything from his personal writing habits to the inconstant role of research in creating a fictional world.

Intelligent in both writing and conversation, Ishiguro displayed wit throughout the event. At the start of their conversation, Gyasi asked the veteran author how he managed to get the “artificial” characters – such as the artificial intelligence (AI) in “Klara and the Sun” or the clones from “Never Let Me Go ”in 2005 – feel real to a reader. His answer ? “With great difficulty.”

But beneath the faded humor was a quick wit determined to unbox his writing process to the best of his ability. Ishiguro went on to say that there was little difference between an AI character and a human: “All characters in novels are artificial. This might be terrible news for some readers, but they are, ”he joked. “They are all made up. We’re used to the idea of ​​crying or crying over fictional characters.

Ishiguro also asserted the importance of building relationships rather than characters – solid advice for all aspiring writers in the audience.

“You can create very quirky, colorful, and interesting individual characters, but they don’t touch the reader unless they’re related to another character in an interesting way,” he said. “(It can be) a bit of a stretch, but I find that while the relationship is fascinating, the characters on each end are kind of taking care of themselves.”

Gyasi added, noting that the common practice of “sketching characters,” or writing a list of a character’s traits and interests, has never been effective for her.

The two authors showed an overwhelming respect for each other, with Ishiguro often returning questions to Gyasi to hear his take on the matter. A writer herself of historical fiction and other genres of research, Gyasi joined him in a frank discussion about the purpose of research – in particular, whether a novelist is allowed to have a “closed mind” in the process. research, as Ishiguro said, and having already decided on the general course of a novel before delving into the facts.

“You shouldn’t be guided too much by research,” he argued. “We don’t write history, you know; we don’t write journalism. What is essential that we offer our readers is something else.

Gyasi largely agreed, although she did mention a time when her own research on leasing convicts helped shape one of the characters in “Homegoing,” which follows the descendants of a female asante for seven generations.

“I was looking for sharecropping and finally started looking for jobs that the newly emancipated slaves would have had, and I came across this article by Douglas Blackmon in the Wall Street Journal,” she said. “And suddenly I realized this is what the chapter is meant to be.”

“It’s a difficult question,” Ishiguro admitted – then added, “but it’s not that difficult. I think we’re right.

This sort of confident ambivalence was indicative of the discourse as a whole; it was a conversation loaded with both wisdom and refreshing humility. Ishiguro approached each issue with the utmost sincerity, dissecting his own opinions and honestly admitting when he couldn’t come to a resolution. It was clear that Ishiguro was not there to preach; instead, he seemed eager to learn as much from Gyasi, an author 30 years his junior, as the public was learning from him.

If Ishiguro’s speech proved anything, it’s that a novelist is someone who asks questions, not necessarily answers them – and with a whopping 73 chat audience questions at the end of the conversation. , there must be quite a few writers in the Bay Area.

Contact Lauren Sheehan-Clark at [email protected].

Scott R. Banks