Interview with Graham Greene
I = Interviewer
G = Graham Greene
I The main problem about interviewing Graham Greene is that there is so much one could ask him about, so many things he�s done, places he�s visited during his seventy-eight years, as well as writing more than twenty of this century�s most ingenious, inventive, and exciting novels. In appearance, he�s tall and slim, with that slightly apologetic stoop that tall people sometimes have. A modest, affable man, who seemed at first a little nervous of my tape-recorder. Every novelist, he once wrote, �has something in common with a spy. He watches, he overhears, he seeks motives, and analyses character. And as he does so, there�s a splinter of ice in his heart.That’s an essential quality, according to Graham Greene.
GG You�ve got to be cold, and you mustnt get emotionally involved with your characters.
I So you have to preserve a distance from your characters?
GG You�ve got to preserve a distance. I mean, they’re going to come out of your guts, as it were, and you�ve got to cut the umbilical cord very quickly.
I What about the kind of ice in the heart that you need when you�re listening to other people�s conversations, or observing the way they�re reacting …
GG Yes … actually, I used that phrase about er… when I was young and I was in hospital for appendicitis, and there was a small boy who had broken his leg at football, and he died in front of one�s eyes. And then the parents arrived, they�d been summoned to the hospital, and arrived too late, and the mother broke down, and wept by the bed, and used the kind of banal phrases that a bad writer would use in a book. And then, I mean, the fact … all the other people in the ward put on earphones over their ears, and I�m afraid I didn�t. I … I just…
I You listened because you felt it was something you could use.
GG � because it was something I could use.
I Do you observe yourself closely, too, your own emotions? Are those important for a writer to use?
GG Em… I probably do without knowing it, because I went through psychoanalysis when I was sixteen, and that probably gave me a habit of… of observing.
I How much do you use your own experience, then, I mean, places you�ve been to, people you�ve met, in your writing?
GG Not people, much. I mean (mumble) except perhaps a very tiny, minor character, or somebody who passes across the stage, as it were, without any speech. But er… the main character has to be imagined, and therefore some of one must be in him, but he�s a kind of composite figure, like we�re composite figures of our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
I Graham Greene�s flat at Antibes in the South of France contains several abandoned, unfinished novels. Greene says that as he writes a novel, the narrative is outside his conscious control. He hands over that control to the story and the characters, and he never knows, therefore, until he�s at least a quarter of the way into a book, whether it will actually grow into a complete novel or not.
GG As a rule, one knows the beginning, and the middle, and the end. The great thing is to let the characters dictate … certain extent. They, they, they probably won�t dictate any change in the end, because in the end is one�s beginning, as it were. But er … it�s a very pleasant sensation when one gets up from a day�s working � �Well, I never though that er … I never thought of that !�
I Ways of Escape is the title of your second autobiographical book.
I You said that a large part of your life, writing and travelling, is escape. Escape from what?
I Is that boredom with the world or with yourself?
GG B… with both, probably. (laughs)
I I find it hard to understand in a way how someone who has a great curiosity about people, and who also has the means and the opportunity to travel, can nevertheless be bored.
GG Well, I think one is born with a capacity for boredom. I�ve … I experienced it first, terribly, at the age of sixteen. And er… even … even danger doesn�t destroy boredom … for instance, during the Blitz, one could be afraid for about an hour or so, but then one became bored… became increasingly boring. And once when I was… I think it comes in Ways of Escape, when I was caught in crossfire on the Suez Canal, one was afraid for a while. One was for about two hours or more on a sandbank, and then one got more and more bored. So I think… it is a disease, really.
I But you have sought danger as a way of…
I … relieving boredom.
GG Yes, but then unfortunately the danger (laugh) becomes boring!
Extract from a spy story
Angus Pym woke up on the dot of six o�clock, as he always did, no matter where he was or what he had been doing the previous day. His first thought was the realization that he was still wearing shirt and trousers, and when his eyes fell on the reports piled up around him on the bed, the events of the previous evening came back to him. He had gone to his club for supper, had just finished his steak tartare and was looking forward to a splendid zabaglione when his meal was rudely interrupted by a call from M, his controller.
After an ice-cold shower, Pym thought carefully about which suit to put on. He was seeing M at nine o�clock that morning, and he wanted to make a good impression. Glancing at himself in the mirror, he noticed that he had put on weight recently. He would have to pay more attention to his diet in the future.
An hour later, as he was driving through the rush-hour traffic on his way to meet M, Pym carefully considered the contents of the files. So Zircon, the organization which sought to control the free western world, was back in business? Its founder, Leon Biarrowitz, was dead. Pym knew this, because he had personally arranged his death. But who controlled Zircon now? Doubtless M would tell him.