Louis de Bernières returns to Ilkley Literature Festival tomorrow to talk about his new novel. The bestselling author spoke to Chris Bond.
EVEN when Louis de Bernières isn’t working on a novel or crafting a new poem, he likes to be creative.
“I’m always doing something,” he says. “I’ve got a workshop at home where I repair old musical instruments. I’m working on a croquet mallet at the minute.”
Tomorrow he returns to the Ilkley Literature Festival where he last appeared six years ago. It’s a town he’s fond of and which he wrote about in his poem Stone Hotel. “I think it’s a block of flats now,” he says wistfully.
Louis will be back in Ilkley talking about his new The Dust that Falls From Dreams – the first novel in a decade from the bestselling author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
It’s an epic story of love, war and loss set in England, spilling across the first half of the 20th century. It follows an array of characters who try to find happiness from the ruins of colliding worlds and as he explains it’s a story with its roots in his own family’s quixotic history and the First World War.
“My grandmother’s fiancé was killed in 1915 and she never really got over it. She married my grandfather in 1918 but it was difficult and he disappeared. The family thought he had died but he had gone to live in the Rocky Mountains and lived until he was 96. I went out to Canada to find out more because I’d always wanted to write a big family saga.”
His latest novel has been garnered with praise but it is unlikely to eclipse the popularity of his fourth novel – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
It wasn’t an overnight success but built up a groundswell of fans and rave reviews that reached fever pitch by the late 90s. It was turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, though the less said about that the better.
“It wasn’t an overnight success, I just remember looking at my bank account one day and thinking ‘blimey.’”
He didn’t enjoy the pressure and expectation it brought on him and he has mixed feelings about it looking back.
“Most writers do have one book they’re known for and it can be annoying at times because it doesn’t allow you to move on. But on the other hand it paid for my house, so I’d rather it be a success than not.”
Although he’s best known as a novelist Louis is also an accomplished poet. “I wanted to be a poet and I became a novelist by accident,” he says. “My first publisher refused to publish poetry, they said ‘send me some prose’, so I did. It was only later that I came back to poetry, that’s my real first love.”
It’s now 26 years since his first book was published and his passion for his craft remains undimmed. “I really love what I do. It’s a wonderful way of having adventures you’re not really having.”
He finds the research fascinating, too. “I found myself wandering in a graveyard in the tropics for one book – that sort of experience isn’t available in most jobs.”
Louis de Bernières is appearing at the Clarke Foley Centre, Ilkley, tomorrow at 6pm. For tickets go to www.ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk or call 01943 816 714.