No, this is not the advice about getting 500 words in by sunrise, but rather a fun Lunch with the FT column.
FT: By the time I sit down with Richard Flanagan, he is armed with a glass of champagne. Technically speaking, it is a sparkling white wine from a vineyard in Tasmania, the remote Australian island state that the Booker Prize-winning novelist has lived in for all but three and a bit years of his life. Everyone calls it champagne in Australia but either way, Flanagan is not just drinking it but knocking back hefty swigs of the stuff.
“I’ve also got an Armagnac, just to help me along,” he says.
FT: I laugh uncertainly. Each to his own and all that, but it is barely 7 o’clock in the morning in Hobart and I had been expecting to see him with at least a slice of toast.
Whether it is the booze or not, Oxford doesn’t come out of it too well.
“Well,” he says, staring into the distance for so long that I think my screen must have frozen. “What can I say?” he eventually says, 28 long seconds later. “I found it a place of sublime emptiness.”
FT: He was, he says, surrounded by people from whom he felt utterly alienated. One don told him Australia had no culture. Another routinely addressed him as “Convict”. The whole place left him cold.
“These were people who thought women were slime. These were people who thought black people were apes. These were people who didn’t think they were the master race, they knew it.” Another pause. “I went from a universe of wonder to a storied place and I discovered to my astonishment it was small,” he says. “Oxford above all else is a bit dull.”
On his books not been viewed favourably closer to home, in Australia, and his decision to not enter them for the Miles Franklin Award, one of Australia’s oldest and most important literary prizes.
“I just decided I wouldn’t enter it any more,” he says quietly. “Prizes need writers but writers don’t need prizes.” [emphasis added]