Hanif Kureishi Speaks on Writing, His Career and His New TV Project at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi says he now finds writing “more pleasurable” and believes he is “probably better at it” than in the 1980s when the film My Beautiful Launderette first brought him fame.   “When I was young, I would sit down and think ‘I’ve got to make a living, I’ve got kids, I’ve got to write this, I’ve got to carry on’,” he told the Edinburgh International Book Festival. “Now, I think ‘oh I don’t have to do anything’, then I get an idea and it won’t leave me alone…and actually I would have to say as I get older I really like writing more, it’s more pleasurable to me now than it was before.

“I really enjoy it now and I’d only now do it only if I liked it. I wouldn’t sit there, you know, straining to do something that I just had to do for money or to make a living. I’d only do it now for pleasure, so it’s more enjoyable, so I’ve become probably better at it.” Kureishi added that “the desire to do art…pursues me more now”. “I wake up in the morning and I want to write things down,” he said. “I’ve got lots and lots of ideas and they rush at you.”

 The Whitbread First Novel Award winner was discussing his new book, The Nothing, which concerns a once-fêted filmmaker getting revenge for his wife’s infidelity, but he also spoke at length about his career, sex and his love for “unsympathetic” characters in American TV series.  

“I watch a lot of telly,” said Kureishi, “look at Tony Soprano, he’s fabulously drawn, complex, awful. American television has really perked up…since they gave up on the idea of them being sympathetic characters. Look at Don Draper, I’d love to be like Don Draper, women are mad about Don Draper, they throw themselves on them, he doesn’t seduce them – fantastic – then he goes to the office.

“So, it seems to me that the characters that are probably the most unpleasant or the ones you’d most like to be like or do the things you’d secretly like to do, they’re the most interesting characters. And they’re more compelling and interesting and horrifying than writing characters that are sympathetic.”

Kureishi also spoke about a six-part television series he is currently writing with his son Sachin. “It’s about a Syrian refugee who comes to London to work for a rock star,” he said, “so it’s about the underground lives of the refugees, the hustlers, of all the immigrants who are illegal, the asylum seekers who are under the radar who you don’t really see or speak to, and these rich white people who live in Notting Hill.

“He does most of the writing and I write bits of it…but it means that he and I can spend a lot of time talking together, about ideas, characters, about how to write one scene, another scene, how to connect them and [it’s] like a Third Age of our relationship because I don’t have to tell him to eat his dinner, Broccoli, put his shoes on, go to school, do his homework – we speak as adults, as equals about this stuff. And I can pass on all the many things I’ve learned in 40 years of writing, so in a way I can finally be of use to the kid, which is a beautiful thing.”

And Kureishi reminisced about a visit to Edinburgh with the actor Daniel-Day Lewis in 1985. “We got up and went to the Assembly Rooms and the first review of My Beautiful Launderette had come out in the Scotsman and it was horrific; it said ‘this film is terrible, the most awful film, blah blah blah, homosexuals, ghastly people’, and me and Dan sat there thinking ‘oh we’ve got to go back to London and that’s it, we’re done for’.

“Then all the other reviews came out and it was a big hit, and I remember going back to London after being in Edinburgh and thinking ‘my life’s completely different now, it’s completely changed’, due to that trip in Edinburgh.”

DAVID TORRANCE



 

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