(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — In 2015 when I started reading Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, I immediately fell in love with it.
I was then put on to James’ earlier novel John Crow’s Devil, and became a huge fan of his writing.
So when I heard James would be in T&T to attend the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, I understandably was excited.
Then on Thursday, I was told that my colleague Ryan Bachoo and I would be getting to do a sit-down interview with James on Friday at noon.
Before that interview, however, there was an earlier session at the NCG Bocas Lit Fest that I had to attend.
The plan was to return to the office after that session and prepare for the James interview afterward.
While walking through the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS) to get back to the Guardian Building I saw James standing near to a book table talking to someone.
My heart began to race.
I knew we would be meeting later in the day but I had not expected to run into him like this.
While I was prepared to be fully professional as I performed my duty for Guardian Media, now I was on the verge of going full fanboy.
I walked to the book table and bought a copy of A Brief History of Seven Killings.
When James ended his conversation I introduced myself and asked him to autograph the book.
I then went back to the office to prepare for our interview.
My first interaction with James is a far cry from what he experienced when he first met one of his heroes, singer Patti Smith.
James told of the experience during our interview.
“I used to have a very tormented relationship with her (Smith’s) records because I used to think her records were so brutally honest and real, and I was not honest and real so I would throw away her records because I could not deal with it,” James said.
Eventually, James said he learnt to accept and love his own skin.
“So I met her and I wanted to tell her all of this and I chased her down and the first thing that came out of my mouth was ‘I threw away your stuff all the time’ and she was like ‘That’s interesting’ and then she walked away from me but walked backwards so that she could make sure I was not following her, and I was like that is what happens when I meet my heroes so I don’t really want to meet them but I will admire them from afar,” James said.
Books that made him want to write
James has met some of the greatest literary minds in this world, but to him, the “holy grail” would be meeting Toni Morrison.
But because of his gaffe with Smith, he is not sure if he should meet Morrison.
“The holy grail will always be Toni Morrison. I probably should not meet her because I will burst out laughing, it will be so embarrassing, it will be embarrassing and awkward,” James said.
James said Morrison’s books Song of Solomon and Sula changed his life.
“I’m not even saying that for dramatic effect, it genuinely changed my life,” he said.
“The books that made me want to write”.
Apart from Morrison’s work, James said there are other books that “made me want to write”.
One of them is Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters.
“What did that book do for me? I, believe it or not, did not think I could write about my own world,” he said.
“It just did not and if I was going to write about it, I would write about it in still this kind of Victorian gaze and here is a novel that had dialect, it had gossip, it had trash culture, it had political assassinations, it had gender fluidity and queerness, and it just had music,” he said.
James said Olive Senior’s Summer Lightning also made him want to write and taught his word economy.
James said it feels “weird” to have made the TIME 100 most influential people list but he is glad for the recognition.
Despite all the awards and recognition James has received, he said he wanted to be at the NCG Bocas Lit Fest this year.
It is not his first time at the festival.
James urged those hoping to become writers and those currently writing to stick to their craft.
“The first thing they have to realise is just because it is hard doesn’t mean it’s not fun and I think that that’s something people forget. I write because this is the most incredible fun I have been having, I get to do what I love and I have an immense amount of fun doing it and that something can be the hardest work you’ve ever done and the most fun you’ve ever had at the same time, they are not mutually exclusive and I think that is the first thing we have to let go of,” James said.
“Routine is wonderful, if you set a routine the muses will show up, hard work is great. It is great that people are talented but I run into talent all the time, I am not impressed with talent, I am impressed with hard work. How badly do you want it and how hard are you going to work to do it?” James asked.
James said writers should not just rely on inspiration.
Who is Marlon James?
Marlon James, born November 24, 1970, is a Jamaican writer. He now lives in the US. He has published four novels: John Crow’s Devil (2005), The Book of Night Women (2009), A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014), winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, and Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019). James won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for A Brief History of Seven Killings, making him the first Jamaican author to take home the UK’s most prestigious literary award.