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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Will Self and Russell Hoban

Last night I was privileged enough to attend an event forming part of the British Library's Evolving English series featuring the novelist Russell Hoban in conversation with renowned satirist, novelist and generally sharp guy, Will Self. The conversation was focused around Hoban's masterwork, Riddley Walker.

As a guest of Mr. Hoban, I was lucky enough to be backstage with him and his wife, Gundula, before the talk began where he professed his current obsession with the works of Chekhov, his distaste for the sub-par dancing skills of Ms Natalie Portman in Black Swan and the much debated thorny issue of historical realism in contemporary cinema, especially when there is an ethical duty, such as in The King's Speech. When Will Self arrived, the room fell silent; he is certainly an imposing presence and I became extremely nervous that he was, as a result, going to dominate the evening. Having popped my one question to Self, (<me> (nervously): whose decision was it to put a dictionary of Dave-speak at the back of the book of Dave? <Will Self> (not nervously): the editor, I should have been firmer) we went and took our seats.

As it happens, I couldn't have been more wrong. Will Self was the most gracious of "interviewers" consistently praising Hoban's extraordinary writing, calling most writers mere table makers. At the end of the day, all the tables are flat and you eat off them. In Hoban's case, Self said, the table could have legs of different lengths and you might want to lie underneath it, which is a great metaphor for the off-kilter nature of Hoban's work.

The discussion centred around Riddley Walker and was, in many respects, similar to the discussion at the Guardian Book Club which took place a while ago and of which an audio recording is available. Missing from that event, however, was Self's excellent performances (which Hoban insisted must be performed in a 2000 year into the future Kentish accent) which were superb.

Furthermore, Hoban can be a tricky man to interview. He has a propensity to rebuff intellectual interpretations of his work and does not suffer fools gladly; indeed, he is the master of the single word response to the multi-paragraph question. It was evident, though, that he took extremely well to Will Self and was more than happy to chat away, produce his Mr. Punch puppet and elaborate upon issues of science, luddism and quiddity in his works.

The evening was rounded off with an evening at Pizza Express opposite the BL with Kraken (Russell Hoban fan club) members Roland Clare, Peter Christian, Richard Cooper and Ali Baker. Overall, an excellent evening!
Roland Helen and Peter
Roland Clare, Helen Eve and Peter Christian