Young Danny from Last Night in Twisted River has a lot in common with the writer of the book. But John Irving would rather not share his protagonist’s fate.
Irving spoke to Metro about his latest novel and his career as a writer.
When did you become a writer?
There’s an old essay that I wrote called Trying to save Piggy Sneed. It’s about my grandmother and a garbage collector in the town where I grew up. He was killed in a fire on a farm. I worked in the fire department. It was a small town volunteer fire department. A lot of students in the town were volunteers because we thought it was exciting and a lot of fun.
One night the pig farm burned, and I found the body and had to take it out. That is about becoming a writer. The piece is about the desire to improve on that real story. The desire to somehow make the garbage man escape the fire. Or set a bigger fire that burns the whole town.
The desire to make it either a better or a worse story. Because real-life stories don’t have enough details, they don’t make sense — they’re just accidents.
Was there ever anything in your life you couldn’t write about?
No. In fact, I think that one of the reasons I am a fiction writer is that I’ve never been interested in memoirs.
Does it take time or can you write it right after it happens?
It depends on what it is and how it has affected you. I think it’s better to wait until it no longer agitates you.
Is the process Danny faces writing his novel similar to yours when writing Last Night in Twisted River?
It’s the third novel I’ve written where one of the main characters is a writer — the third of 12 — but in The World According to Garp and in A Widow for One Year I did not give Garp or Ruth my process as a writer. I did give that to Danny and I gave him my superficial biography — we were born at the same time, we go to the same schools, so that everything about Danny as a writer, I faithfully modelled on my own history. But everything about Danny’s life is not only not mine, but in some ways the opposite of mine. I feel that I’ve been very lucky and I purposely made Danny very unlucky.