Q&A: Kirsty Gunn speaks about new book before 2012 Edinburgh Book Festival

This article is from 2012

Q&A: Kirstyn Gunn

The New Zealand born author talks about her new novel The Big Music, book festivals and Tolstoy

In her latest novel, Kirsty Gunn writes of a dying man trying to define his life through a new musical composition. Here she takes on our Q&A

Give us five words to describe The Big Music?‬
‪‬Family. Landscape. Secrets. A world.

‪‪Which author should be more famous than they are now?‬
Alistair MacLeod is a writer who takes breathtaking emotional risk with his short stories and novels and I think has been rather set aside for that reason. Some readers fear that his work is sentimental and narrow in range, returning over and over to the story of Scottish emigration, wanting to speak of the sad loss of home and the attempt to find it again. Yet these very qualities are what make MacLeod a great artist: that he has created a distinct literary environment from which he does not stray. And that he makes things dangerous for us there, puts us at risk of much feeling and response that takes us to a place of deep sentiment in the truest sense of that word. That is something our literary culture is not comfortable with at all.

What do you love about book festivals?‬
In a culture seemingly dominated by tweeting soundbites and Facebook ‘likes’, here is an opportunity for writers and readers to participate in the passionate ‬
and serious discussion that good writing still generates. Charlotte Square in August is like nowhere else.

Which dead author do you wish was still alive today?‬
‪‬Leo Tolstoy. Every time I return to War and Peace I am in awe of how this writer prostrates himself to the idea of a narrative that is completely outside his control while following its every detail with reverence, humility and love. It would be amazing to spend just an hour with him on the veranda at Yasnaya Polyana having a vodka and cup of tea and talking about where stories come from. And why …
What was the last book you read?‬
Robert Macfarlane’s richly realised and deeply felt account of walking, The Old Ways, in which he journeys right into the heart of landscape and across the sea and takes us with him every second along the pathways of his nuanced, textured sentences.

10-18 Aug (with Elliot Perlman), 10.15am, £10 (£8).

Kirsty Gunn & Elliot Perlman: Stories To Make Sense Of Our History

In The Big Music, Kirsty Gunn has created an epic literary novel that weaves a story of Scottish history through the eyes of John Sutherland, a folk musician struggling to complete a composition that will define his life. Meanwhile, leading Australian writer Elliot Perlman's The Street Sweeper interleaves the devastating…

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