'Hours' Author in the 'Flesh and Blood'

    Michael Cunningham is the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist whose latest book, “”The Hours,”” served as the basis for the screenplay of this year’s Golden Globe-winning film. Cunningham is considered by some to be one of the best current writers out there. His body of work includes three novels, “”The Hours,”” “”Flesh and Blood”” and “”A Home at the End of the World,”” as well as several short stories. In a conference call he answered several questions, including why he became a writer and the different endeavors that he is currently pursuing.

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    Guardian: Why do you write?

    Micheal Cunningham: That’s the biggest of all questions, isn’t it? I don’t have a very good answer for it. I just do. I find that my conviction about whether or not I’m very good at it sort of comes and goes, but I’ve never since I was — I don’t know — 18 years old, lost my interest in it. It’s the one thing in the world — the attempt to create something like life on paper — that never bores me.

    G: What is the inspiration for the novel “”The Hours”” and where do you get the ideas for you characters?

    MC: Actually, the novel really started when I was in high school. I went to school in Los Angeles, where I was a not-very-precocious student; I was actually kind of like a stoner really. I wasn’t exactly opposed to books, I just wasn’t very studious. I was much more interested in music and movies. One day when I was 15, I was nattering away to this older girl who I was obsessively in love with. I talked to her about Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, and she looked at me and said in a tone, I think not as unkindly met as it may sound if I repeat it, “”Have you ever thought of being less stupid?”” And you know, I had thought of being less stupid, but I pretty much felt that I was happy with the stupid that I was. And she was big into T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf, and she said, “”Why don’t you read a book? Read Eliot. Read Woolf.”” So I went to the library. They didn’t have any Eliot. They had this one book by Virginia Woolf — “”Mrs. Dalloway”” — and I read it. I should say I tried to read it, but I had no idea what it was about. I was a not-very-bright 15-year-old, but I could see the beauty and complexity and music of Woolf’s language, which was a revelation to me. I had not understood that you could do that with language, with ink and paper. I remember thinking, she was doing with language something like what Jimi Hendrix does with a guitar. It really knocked me out. It made me begin to understand that a book could be a big, living presence in your mind, that it could jump off the page and matter to you the way that no other book had ever mattered to me before. It made me, I guess you’d have to say, a reader, and then ultimately into a writer, and as years went by and I began to try to be a writer, I started thinking about how there’s so many things you’re expected to write a novel about. The first time you found love — fine, write a novel about that. That your father was sometimes a little cranky and drunk when he’d drive home — sure, write a novel about that. But to write a novel about the profound transforming experience of reading a book — that you’re not supposed to do because that’s academic and dry and who wants to read a book about reading a book? And I thought, well I might like to read a book about reading a book, and if someone else isn’t going to write one, then maybe I will. So that’s sort of where it came from.

    G: David Hare adapted your novel. Are you satisfied with the job he did?

    MC: I’m hugely satisfied with the job David did. I don’t have that thing that a lot of novelists have about sacred texts, as if a book of mine was some sort of holy relic. Any book of mine is even more or less the best I can do with those people and those situations at that point in my life. Ten years later I would write the book completely differently. So if somebody as gifted as David Hare comes along and wants to do something else with it, wants to see if he can take this sequence somewhere else, my answer is: “”Great, go, let’s see what you can do.”” I’m very happy that the movie has a life of its own. It’s very close to the book, but it’s also a work of art in itself, and David writes the transitions beautifully and holds it together remarkably well and then I think it preserves something that I love in Woolf that I tried to bring to my own novel and I’m very happy to feel it in the movie: this sense of a certain hope, a certain abstinence if you will, that can survive the worst that’s happened to people.

    G: Are any of your other books being made into movies?

    MC: Yes, another book of mine, “”A Home at the End of the World,”” is going to start filming in April. [It stars] Colin Farrell and a theater guy named Dallas Roberts and we’re still talking to two actresses. That starts filming April 1 and it’s very much a low-budget thing. It’s being produced by Killer Films, the people who did “”Far From Heaven”” and “”Boys Don’t Cry.”” We have five weeks to shoot it. I did write the script for this one, and here goes.

    G: Is there anything else that you are currently working on besides the movie?

    MC: Yes, I’m in the middle of this new novel, and there is a stage adaptation of another novel of mine that would be “”Flesh and Blood”” that I’m trying to kind of get polished for its opening in May.

    If you’re interested, pick up one of his novels at a bookstore, and to his his novel come to life, “”The Hours”” is currently playing in theaters everywhere.

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