James Lasdun to appear at 2013 Edinburgh Book Festival
- Brian Donaldson
- 16 July 2013
This article is from 2013.
Renowned author on internet abuse and being on the receiving end of cyber stalking
For most of the last ten years, James Lasdun has logged on to his computer with emotions alternating between hesitation and fear. The object of an internet stalker who has variously attempted to ruin his reputation by publicising false rumours, spread malicious accusations and, at worst, threatened to kill him and his family, Lasdun still manages to have a reasoned attitude towards technology.
‘Like any huge phenomenon, the internet has the potential for positive and negative and I got this searing glimpse into the negative,’ calmly states the US-based English author, poet and academic. ‘It perhaps created a new category of stalker who asserted themselves into other people’s lives with almost no effort or risk. There’s a certain kind of personality which finds that irresistible and since publishing the book, I’ve heard anecdotally of many people who have experienced this kind of stalking.’
That book is Give Me Everything You Have, named after a direct quote from one of the many emails directed at Lasdun from a former student on the creative writing course he taught in New York from 2003. For Lasdun, ‘Nasreen’ began as a talented, quiet student who subsequently sought advice on how to get published. After rebutting some mild advances, he would later be accused of everything from stealing her ideas to sexual assault. From here, things somehow managed to get steadily worse.
‘The book is not an attack on her,’ Lasdun insists. ‘It began as an attempt to write this defensive document but it turned into something completely different. I was fully expecting the publicity around the book to stir up more trouble, but she does go quiet for longish periods.’ Although he has not heard from her directly for almost a year, he has acquaintances who are still on the receiving end of her cyber-assaults.
While the majority of the book is about his own personal story, it touches on reputation, honour, culture and politics, tapping into the echoes of his own family history. His late father Denys Lasdun was the award-winning architect who received hate mail (the traditional posted kind) after being commissioned to design the new Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem, the site of much controversy in the region.
One of the less obvious but equally devastating effects of the stalking upon Lasdun has been his inability to focus on much else. ‘I was not so much blocked as monopolised,’ he says. ‘It has been very hard to think about other things, so what I have written has been coloured by it. I’ve been trying to write other fictions but they kept surreptitiously turning back into this real story, and that was partly why I thought, what the hell, I’ll just tell the story straight. Now I’ve told it, I don’t feel so much in its grip.’
Though he is charming and chipper during a transatlantic phone interview, anyone not affected by such a seemingly endless torment can only guess at the psychological pain James Lasdun has endured. ‘I don’t think I could, with a straight face, describe myself as a completely positive person, but I’m not overly negative either. On the whole, most writers think plots through to their consequences and it’s not always a sunny place. I have an occupational temperament for anxiety.’
James Lasdun, Charlotte Square Gardens, 0845 373 5888, 14 Aug, 7pm, £7 (£5).