NOTES & THEORIES: Where Do Novelists Get Their Ideas? from Bob's Auto Repairs, of Course
Kunzru, Hari, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
If there's one question a novelist dreads, it's the one that comes up time and again at literary events. An audience member will raise a hand and ask, 'where do you get your ideas?' You can tell what kind of a writer you're dealing with by how they answer. If they're the old-fashioned Romantic type, they're liable to describe a moment of inspiration, a thunderbolt that struck them when contemplating the rolling Cotswolds/a Rothko/a gnarled tree root " something which made it imperative to pick up a pen (they're often the kind of writers who don't use computers) and start on that book, that particular set of words.
A harder-edged variety (call them 'Authentics') often point to a personal experience, something dangerous or traumatic, like spending time in a Turkish prison or commanding a mercenary platoon in the Gulf.
An Authentic sub-group, the Confessionals, do much the same, only the experience is more inward, and, for some reason, lucrative " getting cancer, undergoing treatment for addiction, being locked in a cupboard by an abusive parent. Writers are supposed to have a narrative about their narratives, and in these media-driven days, it had better be compelling. You can think of it in marketing terms: the kind of creative story you tell positions your product.
When I talk about my last novel, Transmission, I usually claim to have been inspired by new technology, globalisation, the Indian economic boom, my experiences of playing a teenage female elf in Korean online fantasy role-playing games " the kind of ultra-modern thing I imagine people want to hear. It's all bullshit, of course, the kind of thing that writers say, at least my kind of writer, the kind of writer I'm pretending to be.
But I never tell the truth. And nor does anyone else. Nobody ever says a word about Bob. Talking about Bob isn't going to make me popular. I mentioned to a few people that I was thinking of writing this piece, and they all went crazy. V S Naipaul isn't speaking to me. Nor is Don Delillo. Toni Morrison threw a complete hissy fit, told me she had serious lawyers " I should know I was entering into a world of pain, that kind of thing. Writing about Bob is rather like being a member of the Magic Circle and revealing how you saw someone in half. It's just not done.
But if you want to know the truth (and I know you do, because among novelists, of all people, truth is in short supply), Bob Kaplinsky is where I get my ideas. And not just me. Loads of people. John Updike's agent just rang to call me 'a conniving punk-assed little bitch', which is charming, but he and his client know full well that Rabbit came out of Bob's youth playing high-school basketball in Trenton, New Jersey. Likewise Salman Rushdie can't deny that before Bob got involved, Midnight's Children was going to be called The Twelve O'Clock Kids. Saying it feels like heresy, but it's time someone blew the whistle. …