Stuart Kelly opened the discussion with the idea of us being more fascinated with the Mona Lisa when it was lost. Rick said that he found the stealing of the Mona Lisa comical as the queue to see the empty space was longer than when the Mona Lisa was actually hanging in the Louvre. Talk then moved on to who stole the Mona Lisa? The Mona Lisa was stolen on a Monday when the Louvre was closed on a Monday, so only staff have access to the painting. All painting on the Louvre hanged on four iron pegs and only a select few would know how to remove the painting quickly. This takes the suspect list down from 800 to 10. The 10 suspects would be people who would hang or frame the paintings. These are the people that should have been interviewed. It was an Italian framer who stole the painting, he unrolled the painting from the canvas and sneaks it out the Louvre. An hour past and people noticed it the Mona Lisa was not there, however painting where regularly removed for a variety of reasons such as to photograph it, to clean it or to reframe the painting. Three hours passed and people began to ask where it was, five hours then passes since it was stolen and people where hysterical and have realised that it had been stolen. At this point the police where called. The Mona Lisa was kept at the bottom of a trunk for the next 18 months by the Italian framer.
Talk then moved to the title of the book, Lost, Stolen or Shredded. Rick mentioned how he was never happy with the title of the book. The book started off as a series for radio 4 and was listened to by around 500,000 people. When the series began to take a literal form, Rick approached his publisher with the idea of changing the title for the book. The publisher thought this was a horrible idea as all those people had listened to the book and knew the book by this point. However where these people ultimately going to buy the book when it came out.
Stuart brought up the point of that we live so much in a digital idea so surely it is more difficult nowadays to lose things. Rick began answering this by stating he was very interested in the ideas of recopies and one day we will have the technology to accurately reproduce a piece of art to the point that no one will be able to tell the difference. When people are presented with the original and the copy they will see no imperfections between the two. It is getting harder to deal with writer’s archives and nowadays it is not uncommon for archives to continue hard drives belonging to the author. This is mainly due to the letter becoming a dead form, problem can be that emails can be duplicated, so how can you value them?
This led onto Stuart’s next point that he believes the literary biography genre is soon going to be on the “endangered list of genres”. Rick disagreed, he stated that we are in an age when we know more about people, through tweets, email and youtube, for example. This means that the biographer has a better deal than ever before and we are going into a great age for the literary biographer. However this has a negative side to it as well, biographers are going to have access too so much information that we could be overloaded in the biography’s that they produce.
Rick then treated the audience to a reading from his book. He explained how there was advantages and disadvantaged to the fact that the book was written for radio. As when writing for radio you have 30 to 45 seconds to capture the listeners attention. You have to get them, then lock them in so they will listen to the story you are telling.
Stuart then asked Rick if he had any advice from going form the long list of the Manbooker prize to the actual winner. (Stuart is a judge on this years manbooker prize and Rick was a judge for the 2005 prize and later went on to be chair of the International Manbooker prize for two years).
Rick started by saying it is an extraordinary thing judging the Manbooker as you have to average a book a day and this takes over your life. You will find that most books don’t gratify you as a reader and ultimately you have to go with whatever book you feel most passion for as only then will you be able to argue your case. He had four pieces of advice for Stuart:
1) Some books are better than others, pick the best book.
2) Know why this is the best book.
3) Be able to say why this is the best book in detail.
4) Make an argument of why it is the best book. You need to be able to state why the others are not good and be able to open them and show why to the other judges.
Ultimately when being a judge on the Manbooker panel you need to be able to think like an advocate.
With that interesting conversation the event was brought to a close. It was a surprising treat that the Manbooker was brought up at the event and it was very interesting to hear the advice Rick had for Stuart. This has been one of my favourite moment of the Edinburgh International Book Festival so far.