"How It All Began" by Penelope Lively
Jeff Glor talks to Penelope Lively about "How It All Began."
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Penelope Lively: Something that happened to me, and a reading experience. What happened was a fall in the street - I slipped and fell flat on my face. . No great damage, but I now knew what that felt like. The reading experience was a gradual one - coming across references to chaos theory, the proposal in physics that a small perturbation can have a chain effect: a butterfly flaps its wings in the forests of the Amazon and prompts a tornado in Texas- the Butterfly Effect, it has been called. I don't pretend to understand the physics, but I was attracted by the analogy with our own lives. So - the novel grew out of these two things. My fall game me the opening page, then something similar happens to a leading character, and this event has a ripple effect on the lives of others, some of whom did not know her never would.
JG: What surprised you most during the writing process?
PL: Not so much surprise, I think, as being intrigued by all the possibilities open to me - the way in which the story could go. This is true of all novels, but especially so of this, where the whole point was the contingent effect - how what happens to one person may send another off course.
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
PL: If I had not become a writer, I suspect I might have been an archaeologist. I have always been hugely interested in archaeology - that intimate physical evidence of the past. I married young, and had a family by the time I was in my twenties. Had I not, I would probably have done a diploma in archaeology after my degree in history, and would now be a retired archaeologist with arthritic knees after a lifetime of happy toweling.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
PL: I have just finished John Lanchester's "Capital"- capacious, enjoyable novel that reflect our city today. Justin Cartwright's "Other People's Money"is excellent too - a financial crisis novel. Neil MacGregor's "A History of the World in a Hundred Objects" kept me blissfully happy during the winter - that wonderful selection form the treasures of the British Museum. I'm doing a lot of rereading, going back to favorite writers; I've put all my John Updikes and Phillip Roths on a separate shelf, the plan being to work through them gradually. I've enjoyed Ann Fadiman's essay collection "At Large and At Small," which inspired me to get hold of Joseph Brodsky's collected essays - fascinating. I wish the essay was not an endangered form.
JG: What's next for you?
PL: I am working on some non-fiction - a maverick kind of anti-memoir. And the gleam in my eye for when that is done is a ghost story - a novella. But all this could change - I've learned over a writing lifetime that the lightning can strike unexpectedly, and when it does have to drop everything and react.
For more on "How It All Began," visit the Penguin Group website.
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