Stylist Live

Emma Cline and Salman Rushdie on the realities of writing a book

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Sejal Kapadia Pocha
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Literary legend Salman Rushdie and debut novelist Emma Cline offered us a no-frills and candid insight into the lives of authors at Stylist Live last night.

Cline, who snapped up a reported $2 million book deal for her first novel The Girls, and a film deal with one of Hollywood's most powerful producers, Scott Rudin, said she had a nervous breakdown when it all sinked in.

“I really hadn't thought past the end. I didn’t imagine what's next. My mum was like ‘Nobody could want it right?’ I guess not so.” So it really is very weird when you have no sense of how it'll be.

“I had a legitimate nervous breakdown. Someone said to me ‘This must be the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to you’. And I was like ‘yes’ and then I would go back to my house and watch a lot of reality TV. I watched about seven or eight seasons of The Real Housewives

“I lived with my parents for a month and my mum made me dinner. I felt like I had to really hide out so that I didn’t feel too spooked.”

Cline added that she had to shut herself away from the internet one summer to really focus on the book which is loosely based on the Charles Manson murders, something that was a big part of her parent's lives while living in California.

While many books about the infamous killings focus on Charles Manson, the mastermind behind the murders, Cline found him to be a “pretty cookie cutter sociopath, which is interesting but only to a point”. Instead, she focused on the women who carried out the crimes for Charlie. 

“The women were so human. One of them was a homecoming queen, they took typing lessons and they were very wholesome in a way. I thought what could possibly make somebody go from that to being [murderers]?”

She said it reminded her of the teenage women who are leaving their homes to join ISIS. “It's very strange that they’re writing back saying “bring bras, the bras here are terrible”. It’s a very bizarre circumstance that that's what would be on their minds while they're also trying to join ISIS.”

Meanwhile, as the writer of 13 works of fictions (including The Satanic Verses and Midnight's Children), Salman Rushdie reflected on his own writing process saying it has not become any easier. “When writing my new book I tried just sitting there and seeing what happens. It means there was a lot of dead ends. I would write 30 to 40 pages and think ‘I don't l like this. I don't want to do it any more’ and out it would go. I would try another alleyway.”

He also revealed that he doesn't reread his work: “This leads to the terrifying possibility of unintentional repetition. And it's happened. My Danish translator emailed me very politely and said, ‘You know on page 215 of your novel such and such character says so and so. And as you of course remember in your previous novel, such and such on page 107 this completely different character said the same thing. I'm really interested to understand the inter-textuality and why it was that you wanted to connect this character to that character? And then you pretend you did it on purpose. You can't just say ‘oops’.”

“That's the worrying thing about writing many books. There's no way you can remember everything you said or did. There's no way. If I open an old book of mine there are pages where I have no memory of what could be written on the page. So that's the scary thing.”

Rushdie also spoke of how the book has survived in our digitally dominated world: “This old fashioned object seems to be still what people want in their hands”

“I was at Google and Microsoft the other day and I was trying to point out to them that this interesting piece of software, the book, was actually very sophisticated. That you could interact with it very directly without in any way obscuring the original text and it was also very resilient - you could drop it in water and it did not lose it’s data”

“There are things that books can do that a computer can’t. If you’re in bright sunlight, the text is still easy to read. So the book may be more sophisticated. They listened to me in a kind of shock”

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Sejal Kapadia Pocha

Sejal Kapadia Pocha covers stories about everything from women’s issues to cult foods. She describes herself as a balance between Hermione and Luna Lovegood.