The Art of Fielding author Chad Harbach and The Land of Decoration author Grace McCleen told the audience their experiences of what it’s like to finally be published. Both authors were included in this year’s Waterstones 11 – their top eleven debuts of the year – and Harbach made history when an ebook was published on the same day as The Art of Fielding about the process of writing his book.
Curiously, McCleen has already nearly finished writing her final novel. She has written five novels, all of which she started as an unpublished author, which she preferred because “the pressure was off”. The British author said: “I find writing so difficult I get weird neurological symptoms and it makes me very ill, so that’s why I’m giving it up.” When asked if she would miss being an author, she gave a very firm “no”.
Harbach joked that his next novel would be in out in eleven years, which is the amount of time it took him to write The Art of Fielding. Much like debut author Orange Prize-winner Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, which took the author ten years to write, Harbach’s slow burner has scored him literary success, with his novel being lauded as a “Great American novel” by much of the press. Harbach laughed off this ego-boosting claim, saying: “In my experience, it’s only Brits who are concerned about the Great American novel. You guys are obsessed”. He jokingly added that nobody in the USA had given him that title; “nobody would ever discuss that in the States”.
The American author added that sport is an under-represented topic in literature, considering it “has replaced religion at the centre of culture…I’m surprised about the lack of novels about sport – there are very few examples.” McCleen suggested that sport has also “replaced warfare; the violence of it. Because we’re not killing each other anymore we express that aggression through sport.”
As for the question it seems is on everybody’s lips at Hay Festival – how do you write? – both authors revealed their quite intense routines. “Often I write at night, in the dark,” McCleen said, “Even looking at things is really distracting. I like to take a bath and feel really dizzy and sick and lie down and let things come to me.”
Harbach said that he had to get “into a completely different world. You have to make this transition. My real life is utterly neglected; it is messy and complicated and it takes me about three days to properly get from one world to the other. Once I’m there I stay there for as long as I can.”
Whilst somewhat unusual for a just-published debut author to cut off her career the same year she is published, Harbach it seems is looking forward to a long career of being a ‘Great American author’. At least us Brits think so anyway.