Letter from Graham Swift to Barry Fishman

(BJ Fishman '89)

Dear Mr. Fishman,

Thank you for your letter of 23rd August and for your kind words about my work.

To answer your questions -- firstly about authors, literature and the academic world. I studied English literature at university many years ago, and since that time I have had virtually no contact with the academic world. I am almost entirely ignorant of the revolutions and counter-revolutions in critical theory which have occurred since then, and I do not regret this ignorance. I am not very interested in critical theory. If I had not gone to university and studied literature, I am sure I would still have become a writer. On the other hand, I certainly value the time I had at university to read widely.

I now find that my work is set on exam syllabuses and is the subject of studies like yours. My feelings are mixed. On the one hand it is flattering and encouraging to know that this can happen to living writers; on the other, there is the fear of being dissected, or embalmed, even while alive. The worst of it is that I find myself pressured to become a teacher, or expounder, of my own work. I am not a teacher, I am a novelist. And I think my general position will always be that, though every reader is free to respond, interpret in their own way, I cannot usefully say more about my novels than they themselves say. Even though I wrote them!

There is very little autobiographical content in my work, and I have said publicly more than once that I do not think the autobiographical mode of writing has great potential. I have no personal connection with the Fens described in Waterland. I have never lived there. Though I did a fair amount of book research into the history of the region, my actual physical research was virtually nil. I don't like research, and my general attitude is to minimize it, do it after, rather than before the writing, or avoid it altogether. If this seems to leave something unexplained, then I would say that the imagination is a strange and powerful thing.

I wish you all the best in writing your thesis on my work. I hope the process does not spoil the enthusiasm you have for my writing -- for which again, my thanks.

Yours sincerely,
Graham Swift

United Kingdom

Last Modified: 20 March, 2002