John Banville in Conversation at Rome Literary Festival

Ranieri Polese and John Banville at Libri Come book festival
Award-winning Irish author John Banville joined Ranieri Polese on stage in Teatro Studio at the Auditorium Parco della Musica on Sunday morning for a literary discussion entitled “How I write my books” presented as part of the annual Rome literature festival Libri come: Festa del Libro e della Lettura. Now in its third year, the four-day book festival has become a hugely popular event in the Roman cultural calendar with a varied selection of lectures, discussions, book presentations, and writing workshops, as well as encounters with important international authors.

I first fell in love with John Banville's writing when I read The Book of Evidence some twenty years ago, so was excited to see his name on this year's programme. It was a huge delight to discover that in person John Banville is warm, witty and disarmingly down-to-earth. Ranieri Polese conducted an informal and intimate conversation, leaving Banville - clearly a born raconteur - plenty of space to ragale the small but attentive audience with anecdote after anecdote.

I confess that whilst I know and love the novels of John Banville I'm not at all familiar with the work of his crime fiction writing alter ego Benjamin Black, who writes a series of thrillers set in 1950s Ireland centred around pathologist Quirke. With the fifth episode A Death in Summer recently published in Italian (incidentally in Italy this series is issued under his own name, rather than his pseudonym) the talk began with a discussion about the very different writing techniques of Banville and Black – the slow and painstaking process of the former, and the fast, spontaneous writing of the latter – and how he tries to keep them totally separate, admitting that sometimes one of the two will “peer over his shoulder” and try to influence him when he is writing as the other. Talking about the 1950s Ireland where the crime books are set, he spoke forcefully about the oppressive and abusive power of the Catholic church in those times, words which could not help but resonate amongst a Roman audience.

A lesser known side to John Banville is that of his work as screenwriter and a great deal of the conversation was dedicated to cinema talk. Banville clearly loves cinema and his enthusiasm for not only the movies, but also movie stars was refreshingly honest – there was no faux nonchalance here, and instead he acknowledged the special place film stars and celebrities have as modern day “gods”. At the same time, however, he was under absolutely no illusions as to what happens to a script once Hollywood gets its hands on it – total rewrites are, it seems, par for the course. He recently co-wrote the movie Albert Nobbs with Glenn Close: “Glenn likes to tell people she wrote it – which is fine by me!” he joked.

Sadly the talk was over way too soon – I could have listened to John Banville talk for hours! The end of the discussion was met with warm applause, with the author signing copies of his books for several admirers who approached the stage.


LindyLouMac said…
How interesting that you were able to hear him speak at The Literary Festival. I am familiar with his writing but actually had no idea he even wrote crime novels!