Brought to book: John Banville

The first in a new weekly series interrogating authors about all things literary: ‘I should have made it all up. The world imagined is always more convincing than the world researched’

John Banville: Nietzsche’s “You will never get the crowd to cry hosanna until you ride into the city on an ass” is a motto every writer should have pinned above his or her desk. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

John Banville: Nietzsche’s “You will never get the crowd to cry hosanna until you ride into the city on an ass” is a motto every writer should have pinned above his or her desk. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Tue, May 13, 2014, 11:53

John Banville won the Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. Writing as Benjamin Black, his latest book is The Black-Eyed Blonde, a Philip Marlowe novel. Banville is a former literary editor of The Irish Times.

What was the first book to make an impression on you?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Almost any one of the Just William series. As I recall, they were beautifully written.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

Impossible to answer this. There are so many . . .

What is your favourite quotation?

Nietzsche: “You will never get the crowd to cry hosanna until you ride into the city on an ass.” A motto every writer should have pinned above his or her desk.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Lolita.

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

Joyce Cary.

Which do you prefer - ebooks or the traditional print version?

Print version, of course. The printed book is one of the most beautiful objects invented by man, so why on earth should we try to improve it or, worse, make it obsolete?

What is the most beautiful book you own?

A manuscript book made for me by master binder Tony Cains. Cockerell marbled paper and vellum binding. The only problem is, it’s such a lovely thing I can hardly bring myself to write in it.

Where and how do you write?

I have a small apartment in the city centre which I call my office. I write with a fountain pen and then computer. Benjamin Black writes direct on to the screen.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

The Golden Bowl. Henry James turned the novel into an art form.

What is the most research you have done for a book?

I spent a lot of time researching for my novel Doctor Copernicus. I think it was a mistake - I should have made it all up. The world imagined is always more convincing than the world researched.

What book influenced you the most?

The Catechism.

What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?

Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young?

Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Work, work, work.

What weight do you give reviews?

I don’t read reviews.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

Downhill, if we are to believe the publishers. However, when I was publishing my first book, everyone in the trade assured me that the business would be dead in five years’ time. That was in 1970.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

None, that I can think of. But these days I read very little new writing, and may have missed something of great significance.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

One doesn’t read to learn lessons, but to have one’s sense of being alive intensified.

What has being a writer taught you?

To stick to my last.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Henry James and his brother William. Elizabeth Bowen and Elizabeth Bishop. Wallace Stevens and Ralph Waldo Emerson. WB Yeats and his wife Georgie, with the proviso that the old boy is forbidden to talk nonsense about the fairy folk. And if I’m allowed to go sufficiently far back, Gaius Valerius Catullus and his girlfriend Lesbia. That would be an occasion to remember.