Writer Geoff Dyer on What Makes the Writing Life | Louisiana Channel



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“I think writing has always been this nice thing of the safety net for those who have sort of messed up everything else.” Meet the English writer Geoff Dyer who doesn’t distinguish between novels and non-fiction and is known and awarded for his genre-defying books.

In this video, Geoff Dyer shares his process and thoughts on writing. ”I write a note to myself: remember, write the book that only you could write,” he says. Dyer doesn’t determine which kind it should be before starting a book. Although he has previously made proposals for books before he’s written them, often the books turn out a completely different place when finished: “I hate writing proposals. I find it so boring and because I never know what the book is going to turn out to be. I much prefer to just write the book and then hope, when I’ve finished it, that someone will take pity on me and publish it.”

“I think it’s a really difficult thing in the writing life to know when has the moment come to address this particular subject.” Geoff Dyer has written books about the First World War, D.H. Lawrence, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, to name a few. But to him, writing biographies per se doesn’t interest him: “I don’t really like writing stuff that requires the conveying of information and facts,” he says and continues: “Of course, that’s the first obligation of the biography. And that’s something that I’ve got less and less appetite for.” That doesn’t mean that Dyer doesn’t have respect and admiration for those sorts of books because he certainly has. He explains: “I feel no desire at all in my books to write stuff that’s already available in other books.”

Growing up in a working-class family in a working-class town in England, it wasn’t necessarily in the cards that Geoff Dyer would end up at Oxford University. But he did. “It really wasn’t until I got to Oxford, that I even knew it was working-class because we didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t working class,” he explains. By doing more than well throughout his childhood school years, he eventually ended up at the prestigious university: “If it sounds like I’m boasting here, I’m really not because what I need to emphasize is how entirely passive this experience was. I just rode this educational escalator of passing exams.”

“I’ve realized that one of the necessary areas of discipline in my life has been to discipline myself. Not to fall into despair when I’m not writing and crucially not to think that it’s completely finished.”

Geoff Dyer (b. 1958) was born in Cheltenham, England. He currently lives in the United States. He was educated at the local grammar school and eventually won a scholarship to study English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University. He is the author of four novels, including “Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi”; a critical study of John Berger, Ways of Telling, two collections of essays, and many genre-defying books: But Beautiful, The Missing of the Somme, Out of Sheer Rage, Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It, The Ongoing Moment, Zona, about Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H W Bush, White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World, The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand, and “Broadsword Calling Danny Boy,” about the film Where Eagles Dare. His latest book, The Last Days of Roger Federer: And Other Endings, was published in May 2022. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was in 2015 elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received many awards for his work, including the Somerset Maugham Prize, ICP Infinity Award for Writing on Photography, National Books Critics Circle Awards for Criticism, and many more.

Geoff Dyer was interviewed by Tonny Vorm at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in June 2022.

Camera and editing: Johan von Bülow
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2022

Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling and Fritz Hansen.

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