Five Things We Learned About Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro. Matt Carr/Getty Images
Category: Reading
Tagged: author

Kazuo Ishiguro is kind of a big deal. He’s a Booker winner and a literary superstar, and last Thursday, he was here in Edinburgh for a one-off event. Touting his first book in over a decade, Ishiguro packed out a 650-seat theatre when he turned up to discuss The Buried Giant.

As you can imagine, we were suitably excited, and headed along to learn all of Ishiguro’s deepest secrets. Here’s what we learned.

1. He used to be a grouse beater, for the Queen.

Yes, really. In his student days, Ishiguro spent a year in Scotland, where he and friends from Aberdeen and St Andrews made extra cash by walking ahead of the hunt to expose grouse from the underbrush. Of the job, Ishiguro said that it was quite an interesting alternative way to see the moors, as ‘you had to stay in your formation, so the grouse wouldn’t escape, so if you came upon a bush, you had to go through it’.

2. Genre isn’t an issue for him.  

His previous books have featured crime and science fiction, and the new one is no exception, bringing with it a healthy dollop of the fantasy genre, in the form of ogres, pixies and dragons. On the idea of genre mixing in literary fiction, Ishiguro sees no problems, as long as the puzzle piece fits the jigsaw of the story. In fact, he said of criticisms of his genre-mixing, that he was slightly offended on  behalf of his fantastical cast of characters, and that he didn’t want to feel as if ‘the imagination police was standing over his shoulder’.

3. Memory and forgetting are his bag.

Having explored in detail in his previous books the concept and ethics or memory and forgetting on an individual basis, he decided to up his game. In The Buried Giant, he deals with the idea of what might happen if an entire nation were to undergo a collective forgetting and how this might play out. He said that this concept was more of interest to him than the setting he chose for the story (semi-mythical Britain).

4. His first drafts are a mess.

This one’s for the budding writers out there looking for something hopeful to cling to. Ishiguro claims his first drafts are so messy that he doesn’t show them to anyone at all. When he first started out writing , he says he made more of an effort with his drafts, worrying that they needed to look like ‘proper writing’ but as he has developed, his drafts have got looser and looser, and now, they’re mostly about the getting the ideas out and they story told, so he can then go back and refine.

5. He writes less now, but he writes to change the landscape.

Last of all, Kazuo Ishiguro mentioned that he takes longer to write books now because it’s not enough for him to have an interesting idea. He wants to change the landscape in some way with what he writes. The projects he puts his time into have to be worth the time investment taken to see them through, or as he puts it he doesn’t ‘get out of bed for less than a GREAT idea!’


The Buried Giant is out now and published by Faber & Faber.

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