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The trouble with James Clavell is he writes such long books. Good books, to be sure, but so very long. When I met him on his recent visit to Glasgow l was barely halfway through his latest, Whirlwind, despite having given it my almost lull attention for the best part of a fortnight. As Clavell agrees, ‘lt’s not the kind of book you can hurry’, but why does he always insist on such length? ‘Well, ldon’t. Thrump-O-moto, my children’s book is very short. But a book like Whirlwind you can’t do like a bedroom comedy. You say it’s long, but there's always something going on: there are no purple passages and virtually no adjectives.’

He‘s right, you know. There’s always something going on in this huge, sprawling novel. It would be wrong to describe it as an epic - despite its scale as it concerns only three weeks in the revolution-torn Iran of 1979. The story is told from the point of view of a group of helicopter pilots trapped in the country, and although Clavell says he does not write to instruct— he hopes that Whirlwind will give the reader a better knowledge of Islam. He spent live years on the novel and says: ‘I am absolutely convinced that the Islamic fundamentalists oflran thinkthey are right and are doing God’s work.‘

The same might be said of Mr Clavell as he seems to regard his writing as an almost mystic experience. ‘Once I‘ve finished a book I’ll look at it and think . . . lcan'tbelieve I did this . . . where did it come from?’ Indeed the interview is littered with phrases like ‘l’m glad that happened’; ‘who’d have thought that would happen’; ‘wasn’t that lucky’ all describing events or characters in the book—attimes you would thinkthat his body writes his books with no apparent help from his brain. He will tell you of the time and effort involved in researching or the mechanics of writing such an episodic narrative with the help at imaginary diagrams drawn on the table, but he cannot tell how he retainsthe internal logic of a book with so many characters, not to mention

pages: ‘oh, no. . . it‘s impossible—you just can’t do it. . . not intentionally anyway.’ Despite this inability or reluctance to discuss his writing in detail, Clavell

The Backlist this issue comprises a Christmas Book Special Supplement. Currently back in the best-seller list with Whirlwind, author James Clavell talks here to

remains a man of immense charm with a more than mischievous sense of humour-demonstrated in the still schoolboyish twinkle in his eyes. He has the dignity and hearing you would expect of a rear admiral’s godson whose baptism was followed by a recital by Dame Nellie Melba. He was brought up ‘in preparation for a career in the services’ and during World War II was captured by the Japanese and held in the notorious Changi Jail in Singapore, an experience which prompted his successful first novel King Hat.

Although best known, obviously, for Shogun, Clavell has also been heavily

Graham Caldwell.

involved in the cinema. He wrote, produced and directed To Sir, With Love and wrote the screenplays for The Great Escape, 633 Squadron and The Satan Bug. At the moment, following the immense success of his Shogun adaptation, it seems everything he has ever written is currently in movie production. Tai Pan is a box office hit in the States, Thrump-O-moto is being made as a cartoon and both King Rat and Noble House are to become TV mini-series. Clearly his bank manager must worship the ground he walks upon, but since he is of the class who thinks discussion of money vulgar, l

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movie~wise gave him any advantages over other writers. ‘Well, you have to be practical. Some things must change. I was lucky enough to have some control over Shogun, although I was unable to have the shortened cinema version withdrawn. With the TV version of King Hat I’ve been able to reintroduce several scenes which were taken out ofthe original book.’

Clavell’s novels have been described as ‘Asian sagas‘ and, indeed, characters and historical events crop up in succeeding books. He says this is due to his ‘love of families and connections —I do believe in a continuation.’ He denies thatthe firecer anti-Labour Party sentiments expressed in Whirlwind are his own although he goes on to harangue Russia ‘We're under siege and we’re foolish if we don’t recognise that. They’re hegemonic and their goal is world domination’. But, to be fair, he does declare that he is less than impressed by government and politicians in general.

A man who gives the impression of being curiously stateless and disinterested, Clavell is fascinated, you sense, by the teaching and approaches of Islam he writes about so well in Whirlwind. ‘When I write a book it begins to happen. Idon’t know how it’s going to end up.’ You can’t tell how you are going to end a story? ‘No . . . it justhappensfl

lnsha' Allah, one might say.

BACKLIST oooxusr

Whirlwind by James Clavell 43 Ten Best Novels of the

Year 44 Scottish Books 44 Comic Books 46 Art Books 47 Kids Books 48 Film Books 48

ask instead if his experience

The List 28 Nov _11 Dec 43