Monday, June 18, 2007

Ah, the Writing Life

Andrew Sullivan linked to this speech by Andrew O'Hagan, which opened the Sydney Writers' Festival. As a whole, it's a bit overly earnest and utopian for my taste, going on and on about how literature can help us stop war, feed all the children, and basically make us love each other more, but it's a sunny day and I'd rather not set myself up too strongly in opposition to those things. Yes: Stop fighting, eat something, hug the person next to you and then resolve to pay more attention to their emotional needs.

Early in the speech, though, is a very funny moment, the one that Sullivan reproduced on his blog (I really wanted to avoid citing the same exact passage, but I read the whole thing and it was my favorite by a good stretch):
I have to tell you it wasn't really the library that made me a writer. That dubious accolade must surely go to the film of Doctor Zhivago. My brothers and I were always hanging around our house at night looking for things to burn, but this night I found myself watching Dr Zhivago. There’s a scene in that movie when Omar Sharif comes gliding down the stairs in a flowing dressing gown, Omar Sharif, you know, following his rather impressive moustache down the stairs. Well, he arrives in this room – a giant study, you know, French windows, flowery armchairs, the lot. He sits down at this elegant ecritoir and looks out of the windows, where he sees, in quick succession, a host of daffodils, a bank of snow, a full moon and a herd of deer. (God bless Hollywood.) Anyhow, I'm watching this with wide eyes. Next thing he lifts up a feather pen and – without any ink blotches or crossings out or mistakes, and it takes him about 3.4 nanoseconds – he writes the 'Sonnet to Lara'. After which he goes upstairs and goes to bed with Julie Christie. I remember watching that very closely and thinking, "I could do that."


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