Hanif Kureishi

HanifKureishi3

 

Hanif Kureishi CBE (b. 1954) is a novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenwriter, film-maker and, according to The Times (2008), one of ‘The 50 greatest British writers since 1945’.   As a short story writer, he explores a heady range of subjects, including race and religion, love and sexuality, and the power of culture and the imagination.

Kureishi was born in Kent to an Indian father and an English mother.  As the child of a mixed-race relationship, he grew up with a keen awareness of racism and ‘otherness’.   His award-winning novel The Buddha of Suburbia opens with the now famous line, ‘My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost.’  

Kureishi attended Bromley Technical High School (where David Bowie had been a pupil previously).  Later he read philosophy at King’s College, London, and in 1982 was appointed Writer in Residence at the Royal Court Theatre.  In 1984, he wrote My Beautiful Laundrette, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay at a time when the young Kureishi was still living in council accommodation in London.  He is now the author of over twenty major novels, story and essay collections, plays and screenplays, and his work has been translated into thirty-six languages.  For his services to literature, he was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) and was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts des Lettres.

Alison MacLeod is the author of The Wave Theory of Angels (Penguin 2006) and Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction (Penguin 2007).  Her next novel is published by Hamish Hamilton (Penguin) in 2011.  She is Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester (UK).

  

Alison MacLeod meets Hanif Kureishi in The Cafe Rouge in Shepherd’s Bush, London:

Alison MacLeod (weighing up the book):  Hanif, your COLLECTED STORIES - all 700 pages – is, literally, a huge achievement. It’s been travelling with me in the last few weeks –

Hanif Kureishi: I hope I haven’t given you a hernia…

AM (laughing): I’m bearing up.…  Okay, tell me, what attracts you, as a writer, to the short story form? What are its pleasures?

HK: What you want is a good idea. You’re lucky if you get a good idea. Sometimes a good idea just comes to you…

AM: And you trust the idea…

HK: On the whole. An idea is like a magnet. It attracts lots of other ideas to it. It’s just the beginning. One idea enables me to think about other things, so there are certain characters through whom I can think about that which I’m really trying to think about. But on the whole I don’t know what I’m thinking about until I start to try to think about it… I’m doing a new collection of stories at the moment: there’s a woman who’s ill in bed, and her friends come and sit with her, and they tell her stories each night, some of them funny, some of them sad, some of them horrifying, and some of them just entertaining… It’s a good opportunity for me to write in the short form.

AM: What’s difficult about it? What are the form’s constraints?

HK: Well, you can’t put too much in of course. But you spend all your time worrying about whether you’ve got the right amount in.

AM: You’ve written portraits of your father, for example, in different forms: in a memoir, in essay form, and in your novel THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA… What did fiction, in particular, allow you to get at, that perhaps the other forms didn’t?

HK: Well, there were lots of men in my family. My father came from a family of twelve, most of them boys, and when I was a kid I spent a lot of time hanging around with all these Pakistani men, who were drinking and watching soccer and talking and telling jokes… Most of them, very, very intelligent men; very educated men. So this was very impressive for a little kid — to be with all these guys. MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE and THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA, I guess, are full of uncles and fathers and tough guys and men of different sorts… And then becoming a father myself — to three sons — has made me think also about the difference between being a father and a son; about what sort of father one has to be now versus the sort of father my father was in the sixties, for instance…I think what I try to do in my writing, really, is to explore Britain in the post-war period, in the period I’ve grown up in.

I think what I try to do in my writing, really, is to explore Britain in the post-war period, in the period I’ve grown up in.

AM: I’ve misspelled ‘launderette’ for years, I realise, because of MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE!  Why the misspelling?

HK (amused): I went to state school, didn’t I.

AM (laughing):  At last, revelation…  Okay, I’m curious: what for you, as a reader or as a writer, makes a really powerful short story? Is there a way, do you think, of describing that?

HK: Well… It depends on what you need at the time. I mean, when I was a kid I wanted to read ON THE ROAD because I could identify with those kids running away from home, basically — going across America. It’s probably not a story I would identify with now. It depends what you need. Books are a form of dialogue between you and the world, you and the author. The author speaks for you. When you read a book that you like, it’s as if the author has spoken the thoughts that you haven’t yet realised you’ve had.

AM: Your story ‘The Penis’ was inspired by ‘The Nose’. What took you to Gogol or to that story?

HK: I’d always read Gogol as a child. My father loved Russian literature, so we had a lot of Pushkin, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy in the house. That’s what my dad read. I remember reading DIARY OF A MADMAN and other stuff, just as a kid. It’s very, very funny and very dark.

AM: And your story ‘Lately’, of course, is based on Chekhov’s ‘The Duel’.

HK: That’s right. Well, my dad identified with the characters in Chekhov…

AM: In what way? Or how would you imagine he did?

HK: In the post-war period, the Pakistani upper middle class was gradually being decimated… really by extreme Islam, just as we know that the characters that Chekhov describes would soon be swept away by the Russian Revolution. So there’s a revolution coming in Pakistan… Eventually Pakistan will be over-run entirely by the Taliban, and that’s been happening, or been about to happen, for a long time. So you see there are these intellectuals wandering around for whom there’s really no use. And they want to go to Moscow: i.e., they want to get out but they can’t get out. They want to go to London or New York or Toronto but most of them can’t get out now. They’re too old. They haven’t got any money. So that sense of futility is an economic, social and political reality. I guess that’s why Dad, and later I, could see some use for Chekhovian characters.

AM: Like Chekhov, you absolutely dare to say what’s really on your characters’ minds. You’re remarkably honest in your work. Does that feel like a conscious gamble as you write or do you simply write as you see it?

HK: I write as I see it. I write down what I think. But what you’re doing is experimenting… experimenting in the sense of thinking, What if? What if I said that? What if I did that? So in that sense, writing is autobiographical. You’re describing a what-if? state of mind. Stories are thought experiments.

You’re describing a what-if state of mind. Stories are thought experiments.

 

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AM: Are there other short stories or story writers that have stayed with you or become a part of you?

HK: Um…Paul Bowles, the American writer. I like him; I like his writing. They’re very shocking stories. Wonderful stories. So clever, the way they work, the way they strike you — hit you — at the end. But of course there’s the whole American tradition of short stories, which I adore: Sherwood Anderson, Poe, Hemingway, Carver, all the way through… And obviously the French writers, Maupassant in particular.

…of course there’s the whole American tradition of short stories, which I adore…

AM: So you ‘fed’ yourself with stories, as a young writer?

HK: I did in those days. I read a lot. In the end though, you have to find your own way…

AM: You’ve written that ‘there are certain ideas, like certain people, that the writer will be drawn to’. Can we talk a little more about the ideas you’re drawn to?

HK: I guess when I say ‘ideas’, I mean characters, characters who would embody certain ideas. For instance, in the story ‘My Son the Fanatic’, which became a film of which I’m very proud, it was a way of showing a relationship between a father and son, but also some­thing that might be hap­pen­ing in fun­da­men­tal­ism; some­thing in the north of Eng­land; the growth of extreme reli­gion among young people.

AM: And of course that was writ­ten in the mid-nineties, years before we could have imag­ined the July 7th bombings.

HK: I just knew some of those peo­ple… I’d been research­ing THE BLACK ALBUM — i.e., spend­ing time with peo­ple I wouldn’t nor­mally hang out with.

AM: Is that area — extreme reli­gion — still a preoccupation?

HK: No, I’ve done it. Once I’ve writ­ten some­thing, I’m no longer inter­ested in it as a subject.

AM: You’ve shed that skin.

HK: Yes. I don’t have any­thing to say now about rad­i­cal Islam. But other peo­ple of course have lots of things to say about it. I’m not an expert. I just knew some of those peo­ple at that time… I knew about some­thing that was hap­pen­ing in a com­mu­nity of which I was a part.

AM: In your story ‘The Body’, the nar­ra­tor at one point observes that ‘Urgency and con­tem­po­rane­ity make up for any amount of clum­si­ness, in lit­er­a­ture as in love.’ How impor­tant are con­tem­po­rary issues for you as a writer?

HK: Well, you know, I come from The Royal Court. Since 1956, since LOOK BACK IN ANGER, it was a the­atre ded­i­cated to explor­ing post-war Britain: the decline of the Empire, the decline of power, and what would hap­pen to Britain… The fifties and six­ties were really quite a grim period. It was over: Britain had been this huge power and now, what did it do? So… George Devine and the other direc­tors at the Royal Court were com­mit­ted to look­ing at class, to look­ing at sex­u­al­ity, the place of women, etc., through good writ­ing, and I’m still inter­ested in that. My friend Stephen Frears, the direc­tor, he’s still look­ing at all that, too. The Royal Court was my real uni­ver­sity… An edu­ca­tion in sensibility.

AM: Recently you’ve writ­ten that ‘ques­tions of race, immi­gra­tion, iden­tity, Islam – the whole range of issues which so pre­oc­cupy us these days – have been absent from the work of my white con­tem­po­raries, even as a new gen­er­a­tion of British writ­ers has devel­oped…’ There are excep­tions, but yes, I think that’s broadly true. Why do you think that’s the case?

HK: There are many more writ­ers writ­ing about race these days, but the whities have kept off the subject.

AM: Why do you think that is?

HK: They’re ner­vous about it; afraid of writ­ing char­ac­ters that they don’t understand.

AM: Because there’s a pres­sure on writ­ers these days, isn’t there, not to be seen to be appro­pri­at­ing a cul­ture or a voice that is dif­fer­ent than one’s own. But poten­tially, that leaves us in quite a ster­ile place, doesn’t it.

HK: It does. Absolutely. Peo­ple are very ner­vous — for what­ever reason.

AM: Per­haps we’re all so aware, post the Rushdie Fatwa, that lit­er­a­ture can cause fire-storms…

HK: Yes. That was one of the most sig­nif­i­cant post-war events — because it par­al­leled the rise of rad­i­cal Islam and its new atti­tudes to lib­eral freedoms.

AM: In your essay col­lec­tion THE WORD AND THE BOMB, you describe the imag­i­na­tion as ‘our most sig­nif­i­cant attribute’. Can you say a lit­tle more about that?  

HK: I was think­ing about it in terms of what rad­i­cal Islam allows you to think… I mean, we don’t really run into much hard-core oppres­sion or repres­sion in Britain. You can more or less say and think what you like and, on the whole, no one gives a damn. But the Fatwa, and my expe­ri­ences and my family’s expe­ri­ences in Pak­istan, and cer­tainly the expe­ri­ences of other artists and writ­ers in Iran, Iraq, and my friend Hisham [Matar] in Libya — his father [polit­i­cal activist Jaballa Matar] has been in prison for 24 years in Libya — made you aware of how ter­ri­fied the author­i­ties are of the free imag­i­na­tion. Free speech — think­ing beyond the bound­aries — is ter­ri­fy­ing for cer­tain author­i­ties. And it makes you aware of what an impor­tant fac­ulty the imag­i­na­tion is; how we have to pro­tect it, guard against its per­se­cu­tion. Liv­ing in Britain, in the six­ties and sev­en­ties, that was some­thing I didn’t have to think about. And then there was the Fatwa. And then there was Com­mu­nism. One then began to re-think rad­i­cal Islam. All are forms in which the imag­i­na­tion is cer­tainly not wel­come. You know… in Iran today. So we can’t take it for granted. We can’t take it for granted.

And it makes you aware of what an impor­tant fac­ulty the imag­i­na­tion is; how we have to pro­tect it, guard against its persecution. 

AM: Tell me about your con­tro­ver­sial story, ‘Wed­dings and Behead­ings’. Where did that start?

HK: I was watch­ing bits of those videos [of exe­cu­tion by behead­ing of hostages in Iraq] on tele­vi­sion… I was… hor­ri­fied and fas­ci­nated. And I wanted to know about that per­son who was point­ing the cam­era. It occurred to me that there would be some­body THERE in the room at the same time doing that, behind the tri­pod. Sud­denly the whole thing became human, familiar.

AM: Yes, and that point of view also allows you to come at the hor­ror obliquely — which is prob­a­bly the skill of all great story-telling. So in terms of the style, that dis­tanced, ultra spare qual­ity means the impact — when we realise what’s going on — is all the more pow­er­ful. It leaves the reader in a very uncom­fort­able place, as it should. In THE WORD AND THE BOMB, you write: ‘A few days after the Sep­tem­ber 11 attack on the World Trade Cen­ter, a film direc­tor friend said to me, ‘What do we do now? There’s no point to us. It’s all pol­i­tics and sur­vival. How do the artists go on?’ I didn’t know what to say; it had to be thought about.’ Have you thought about it?

HK: Yeah, we were doing a film called THE MOTHER, and we had a meet­ing in Soho to talk about it. And we all sat around that day and watched these events on TV, like every­one else that day. And we started talk­ing about how you engage with these events. The last decade has been about think­ing about that, actually.

AM: Do you ever think, it’s too big, it’s just too big.

HK: Well, the thing in any­thing is find­ing the angle: the guy hold­ing the cam­era who you can’t see… I always try to find that focus…

AM: Much of your work is con­sid­ered sex­u­ally explicit and has, at times, come under fire as a result. Is it sex­u­ally explicit in your view and is that okay? Or is the label ‘sex­u­ally explicit’ sim­ply a crude tag for more com­plex aspects of human rela­tion­ships you’re try­ing to explore?

I grew up in the fifties. By the six­ties there were lots of ‘dirty books’. Henry Miller. Nabokov. Lawrence. It was the ‘Rise of the Dirty Book’. 

HK: I grew up in the fifties. By the six­ties there were lots of ‘dirty books’. Henry Miller. Nabokov. Lawrence. It was the ‘Rise of the Dirty Book’. And my Dad had all those books. I adore Henry Miller… Lit­er­a­ture was car­ry­ing sex­ual free­dom, and it was very impor­tant that lit­er­a­ture exposed the lim­i­ta­tions of what you were allowed to say. It’s extra­or­di­nary that a book like LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER should ever be banned. So I was part of a gen­er­a­tion that saw sex­ual lib­er­a­tion — i.e., the right to speak about sex­u­al­ity — as a big deal. And peo­ple were hor­ri­fied about that stuff in books. Of course, now it doesn’t seem hor­ri­fy­ing at all, but in those days, LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER was, you know, horrifying…

Lit­er­a­ture was car­ry­ing sex­ual freedom… 

AM: And sim­i­larly, you don’t, it seems to me, aim to titillate.

HK: I don’t think you can tit­il­late peo­ple — much — with a book. It’s really about think­ing about what sex­u­al­ity means to peo­ple, the place it has in their life. And also the way soci­ety has changed through the six­ties till now. You see, I grew up in the fifties — and now we have Jor­dan. What is the mean­ing of that? Has it made people’s lives bet­ter? etc., etc. How could you not want to think about all that if you’ve grown up in the period I have, from repres­sion to sex­ual free­dom or even sex­ual addic­tion or…how ever you want to describe it.

AM: Yes, those big issues seem to be pre­oc­cu­pa­tions in your work. But your sto­ries, like all good sto­ries it seems to me, aren’t issue-based. It’s what make us com­plex, con­tra­dic­tory and human that mat­ters: ten­der­ness or inti­macy or love or the fail­ure of love.

HK: Yes, it is really love I’m inter­ested in. I con­sider it to be love — more than sex­u­al­ity. When I say ‘love’, I mean a strong attach­ment between two peo­ple — being fas­ci­nated, peo­ple nur­tur­ing each other, peo­ple car­ing for each other, peo­ple giv­ing. Desire. What the French call ‘desire’.

AM: It seems that you have often drawn upon ele­ments of your own life for your fic­tion, per­haps more overtly than many writ­ers. Is that a risk you take and are resigned to take for the sake of the work?

HK: I think all writing’s prob­a­bly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, just as all dreams are, but the rela­tion between the story and the self is com­pli­cated, very com­pli­cated, just as the rela­tion between the dream and the dreamer is complicated.

AM: Tell me about your writ­ing day.

HK: A lot of days, I don’t do any­thing at all… Some days I do a lot.

AM: So you’re not a writer who says, ‘I must pro­duce 200 words a day.’

HK: 200 words would be a lot. A good whack. It’s not really about quan­tity. It’s about whether you’ve had a good idea. That’s what you want. But mostly what I’m try­ing to do is earn a liv­ing. Peo­ple for­get that. Peo­ple don’t talk about that enough. I mean, some writ­ers, a few, are very, very rich and don’t have to think about it, but most writ­ers are work­ing writ­ers try­ing to make a liv­ing to sup­port their fam­i­lies, which is what I try and do. So you’re nego­ti­at­ing between writ­ing this lit­tle short story for which you might earn £100 and writ­ing a big movie in order to get paid so you can pay the school fees. It’s a very prac­ti­cal thing that I’m doing. How can I buy time to write this novel now? Well I might have to do that and that… So you’re always think­ing in real­i­ties — and, as I say, I don’t think there’s enough said about that. Writ­ing is a job for every writer I know. You have to work out how you’re going to make a liv­ing for the next 5 years…

Writ­ing is a job for every writer I know. You have to work out how you’re going to make a liv­ing for the next 5 years…

I’m think­ing about that all the time. You know, I have to pay my tax. I mean, Kafka didn’t have chil­dren; he cer­tainly didn’t have chil­dren at pri­vate school. Or Beck­ett. Their cir­cum­stances were dif­fer­ent. They could be pure artists. But I think the inter­face between art and the com­mer­cial world is very impor­tant. You are mak­ing sto­ries that peo­ple want to read.

AM: When you dip into your COLLECTED STORIES, which sto­ries give you plea­sure now?

HK: I never think about it… But if some­one says to me they liked that book of mine or that story, it cheers me up. You have to be grate­ful, accept their praise — thank God that, you know, some­one liked some­thing you’ve done. But mostly I’m think­ing about the next thing. I still want to write. I’ve writ­ten a lot, but I still want to write, and what I’m doing today — what I was doing this morn­ing, those new sto­ries — is much more inter­est­ing to me than what I’ve done.

AM: You’ve just heard that the BBC is about to adapt 4 of your sto­ries for tele­vi­sion. Tell me a bit more about that. Which 4 stories?

HK: Um… I think ‘The Real Father’, ‘The Girl’, ‘A Ter­ri­ble Story’ and, a new one, ‘The Arrange­ment’. It’s excit­ing. I’m really pleased. They’ll each be in a half-hour slot. Then they’ll show them together as a two-hour thing. And I think there’ll be dif­fer­ent direc­tors and dif­fer­ent writ­ers doing them.

AM: You’re not adapt­ing them yourself?

HK: I might do one of them. .. I’m not going to do all of them. It’s really bor­ing adapt­ing your own work.

AM: Is there some­thing about short sto­ries — per­haps espe­cially the sin­gle long story — that trans­lates bet­ter to film than, say, the novel? I’m think­ing, for exam­ple, about BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN or BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S… There’s some­thing about a great novel — per­haps all that ded­i­cated explo­ration of ‘con­scious­ness’ and inner lives — that just can’t fit in a two-hour film. But short sto­ries, like film, work more exclu­sively by ‘show­ing’ and by keep­ing things ‘in motion’.

HK: They work very well, don’t they? When you’re adapt­ing a novel, you just spend ages cut­ting stuff out, as you say. Shall I take that out or that out? Will I miss that? If I take that bit out, will the thing col­lapse? You spend all your time rip­ping stuff out. You’re absolutely right about that.

AM: From the age of 14, you knew you wanted to write. There was a moment at school that was piv­otal. Can you describe that moment?

HK: Yeah, it was a great moment — prob­a­bly the most impor­tant moment of my life. I was sit­ting there in an Eng­lish les­son, bored out of my mind, look­ing out the win­dow — at other class­rooms — not want­ing to be there… And then it occurred to me that I could be a writer. And then — I can only describe it — a win­dow opened. Or the door to the future opened. I sud­denly could see a way out of the school, the sub­urbs, Brom­ley — a way out of my own fam­ily. It was like an epiphany. I sud­denly saw.

I sud­denly could see a way out of the school, the sub­urbs, Brom­ley — a way out of my own fam­ily. It was like an epiphany. I sud­denly saw. 

 And then I went home and started to write much more seri­ously. I took it seri­ously — I wasn’t just a kid mak­ing up songs or writ­ing sto­ries, but some­one who wanted to be a writer. It really focused my intel­li­gence and my energy.

AM: At the same time, your father was writ­ing a lot, out­side his job in the civil ser­vice, try­ing to get pub­lished… Were his efforts an influ­ence, do you think, or was your dis­cov­ery inde­pen­dent of that?

HK: Well, Dad talked to me a lot about what he was read­ing… Obvi­ously his books would be around the house, and he’d be sit­ting there in his chair, scrib­bling away, talk­ing about what he was writ­ing… I mean, he was very…um…isolated, apart from me. He had me. He’d talk to me about what he was doing. There was nobody else he could talk about his work to. So I became his sort of…companion. But I learned a lot. We’d talk about sto­ries and char­ac­ter. We’d talk about the organ­i­sa­tion of a story, etc. etc. So all the terms of a story became a part of my…psyche. You imbibe it all with­out even know­ing you’re doing that.

AM: In your story ‘The Body’, the nar­ra­tor — a writer — refers to ‘the ter­rors and inhi­bi­tions that seem to be involved in any attempt to be an artist.’ What do you feel is the most dif­fi­cult thing when one is start­ing out as a writer or artist?

HK: Well, there are two things: 1) the dif­fi­culty of mak­ing work and 2) the dif­fi­culty of mak­ing a liv­ing. And then 3) the iso­la­tion — which a writ­ing course prob­a­bly helps you overcome…

AM: Because you find a community…

HK: Yeah. Oth­er­wise, you think, I’m doing this alone. Nobody knows what I’m doing. They don’t care either. You’re writ­ing in a vac­uum — i.e., there’s no one else there to receive those thoughts while you work. And beyond those things, all the rest: find­ing a voice; find­ing a sub­ject; devel­op­ing your ideas; get­ting pub­lished. Then, later, keep­ing books in print; the next thing I’m going to write; mak­ing enough money…

AM: The ter­rors just go on!

HK: They do. And then, as it were, find­ing a new voice. You have a voice, and then you get bored with it. You need some­thing else. You have to keep devel­op­ing as an artist.

You have to keep devel­op­ing as an artist. 

AM: What do you think lit­er­ary cul­ture and the pub­lish­ing indus­try is like today for new writ­ers com­pared to the eight­ies when you were estab­lish­ing yourself?

HK: I think it’s prob­a­bly harder now — finan­cially. I mean, the eight­ies was quite an extrav­a­gant period — because of the con­glom­er­ates. So sud­denly pub­lish­ers had access to money, and they became very com­pet­i­tive around nov­els. I mean, there would be auc­tions, and huge amounts of money would be given to writ­ers who had writ­ten first nov­els, let’s say, that were really not very good. When you look back, you think, how was he paid £100 K for that? You know… It got very inflated — which was very good! Good for writ­ers. It kept them alive… But in the end, it’s just a bub­ble. It col­lapses. In the end, what you earn has to be related to what you sell. There’s no point giv­ing some­one £100 K if they sell a thou­sand copies.

AM: So you don’t think, for exam­ple, that pub­lish­ers should use block­busters or celebrity biogs to sub­sidise new, dar­ing lit­er­a­ture that wouldn’t itself cut it in raw sales?

HK: Yeah, they should pub­lish all that. I mean, they have to pub­lish stuff that’s interesting.

AM: But many of those new, inter­est­ing nov­els will not earn back their advances…

HK: But they should be pub­lished. They have to be pub­lished — and edi­tors will want to pub­lish them because they’re inter­est­ing books. Yes — you have to pub­lish Jordan’s nov­els because that will allow a pub­lisher to pub­lish some­one else’s new, first novel. Writ­ing, lit­er­ary cul­ture, is only kept alive by new voices.

AM: Final ques­tion: In THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA, the main char­ac­ter Karim, a new actor, is try­ing to cre­ate and develop a char­ac­ter for the play he is in. You describe it like this: ‘There were few jobs I rel­ished as much as the inven­tion of Changez/Tariq. With a beer and note­book on my desk, and con­cen­trat­ing for the first time since child­hood on some­thing that absorbed me, my thoughts raced; one idea pulled another behind it, like conjuror’s hand­ker­chiefs. I uncov­ered notions, con­nec­tions, ini­tia­tives I didn’t even know were present in my mind. I became more ener­getic and alive as I brushed in new colours and shades. I worked reg­u­larly and kept a jour­nal; I saw that cre­ation was an accre­tive process which couldn’t be hur­ried, and which involved patience and, pri­mar­ily, love… This was worth doing, this had mean­ing, this added up the ele­ments of my life.

HK: Well, although Karim is an actor, it actu­ally describes the process of being a writer… I still feel that.  I sit at my desk.  I’ll have a good idea and I’ll write a bit. Then I write another bit and another bit… And I think, this is a jolly good job. It’s very ful­fill­ing, very satisfying…

AM: And in which way does the act of cre­ation pri­mar­ily involve love, as Karim says? That’s a notion that appears in your essays too.

HK: Well… the love of what you do: to be a writer, to be a painter, to be an actor, what­ever it might be. So, to love your job… But also in the sense that you’re doing this for other peo­ple. You write a novel or a story; some­one else reads it; they might like it. If they like it, it’s a gift. It’s a real engage­ment with the world that you offer: a novel, a play, a story, a movie… That’s your con­tri­bu­tion. Some­body else might be a teacher or a doc­tor or a film direc­tor or a road sweeper — what­ever. And this is your con­tri­bu­tion: you make sto­ries and you give them to other people.

And this is your con­tri­bu­tion: you make sto­ries and you give them to other peo­ple…  It’s a form of love.

You think, what’s the value of my life? Is what I’m doing of any fuck­ing use to any­body? There’s a man over there, he’s a den­tist. There’s a man over there, mak­ing a pizza. There’s a man over there, sweep­ing the road. They’re all doing things… What’s my job? Well, I make sto­ries and I give them to other peo­ple. It’s a good job, really. It’s a form of love.

AM: Hanif, thanks very much.
HK:  Thank you, Alison.

Listen to Hanif Kureishi’s story Weddings and Beheadings.

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