Brought to Book: Jonathan Meades on the trial and execution of Tony Blair
‘Learn the word for everything and remember them. Learn the rules and forget them’
Jonathan Meades: “A good chair is vital. I have a Canasta by Heron Parigi. It cost £800 16 years ago – it was worth it.” Photograph: BBC
Jonathan Meades is an author and broadcaster, specialising in food, architecture, and culture. His latest book, An Encyclopaedia of Myself, “a portrait of a disappeared provincial England, a time and place unpeeled with gruesome relish”, has just been published by 4th Estate.
What was the first book to make an impression on you?
A collection of nursery rhymes illustrated in a style that owed everything to the Beggarstaff Brothers.
What was your favourite book as a child?
The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. My abridged edition had art nouveau-ish illustrations.
And what is your favourite book or books now?
Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov.
What is your favourite quotation?
“My dear, the people!” Peter Medawar to his wife on first reading the Bible. It’s in Memoirs of a Thinking Radish.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Mrs Richard F Schiller.
Who is the most under-rated Irish author?
Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?
What is the most beautiful book you own?
A numbered copy of the first English edition of Ulysses.
Where and how do you write?
In my office at a long steel table. A combination of paper and pencil and straight to computer. A good chair is vital. I have a Canasta by Heron Parigi. It cost £800 16 years ago – it was worth it.
What book changed the way you think about fiction?
La Jalousie by Alain Robbe-Grillet.
What is the most research you have done for a book?
Every book and film I’ve written has consumed countless books, most of them tangential to the subject.
What book influenced you the most?
Le Roi des Aulnes by Michel Tournier. (Translated both as The Ogre and The Erl King).
What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges.
What book do you wish you had read when you were young?
The Four Quartets. By the time I came to it I was too old for its epicene corniness.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Learn the word for everything and remember them. Learn the rules and forget them.
What weight do you give reviews?
It depends entirely on who they are by.
Where do you see the publishing industry going?
Not as far up Shit Creek as might be expected. Crowd funding and small outfits will flourish.
What writing trends have struck you lately?
Blogs have shown us that far from living in a post-literate age we are surrounded by youngish people full of vital curiosity and writerly energy. I’m optimistic.
What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
Many. Chief among them that life does not adhere to the hackneyed narratives of novels which are far from novel.
What has being a writer taught you?
To look intently, to wonder, to question, to doubt, to describe – and never to become “engaged”.
Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
What is the funniest scene you’ve read?
The very beginning of Enderby Outside by Anthony Burgess.
What is your favourite word?
I don’t have one.
If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?
The trial and execution of Tony Blair.