Man Booker Prize 2011 shortlist: Patrick deWitt interview

09 August 2011

MBP: Congratulations on being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Where were you when you heard the news and how did you react?

PdW: Thanks very much. I woke up to find a long column of hysterical emails in my inbox. I couldn't grasp it at first but as the day wore on, and the emails and phone calls continued flooding in, I recognized the size and importance of it.

MBP: The Sisters Brothers is set in the Gold Rush Days of Oregon and California. When did you decide you wanted to set a novel during this epoch?

PdW: When I started the book, I was preoccupied with getting the brothers' voices and personalities just so, and the time period was undecided. But one day I found a book about the Gold Rush at a neighborhood yard sale, which I bought and brought home. The images inside the book (prospectors cradling enormous pieces of gold like babies, the bay at San Francisco clogged with abandoned ships) were so strange; I was drawn to the setting and decided on 1851 as the novel's backdrop.
I liked the idea of these hardened killers immersing themselves in a society that frightened and baffled them.


MBP: Your darkly humorous prose has had you compared to the Cohen Brothers, or a chirpy version of Cormac McCarthy. How hard is it to write unsettling and violent scenes with comic twist?

PdW: It would be harder for me to write those same scenes without the twist. In real life, violence is graceless, pathetic, weird, or simply funny. But it's almost never righteous or noble, and I tried to avoid writing about it that way.

MBP: You've also written a screenplay (Terri) - a feature film directed by Azazel Jacobs and starring John C. Reilly. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

PdW: I knew Azazel from when I lived in Los Angeles. After I left, he and I kept in touch, and would swap drafts of things we were working on. I showed him part of an eventually abandoned novel and he asked if he could make it into a movie. I'd admired his earlier films and was more than happy to collaborate with him.

MBP: Are you working on something new?

PdW: I'm working on a novel about a criminally inclined investment advisor who expatriates to France rather than go to prison.

MBP: What are you reading at the moment?

PdW: Thomas Bernhard's The Lime Works.

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