Sunday 25 July 2010

Quotes, Anecdotes and Put Downs from A Bit of Fry, Tang, Roberts and Forsyth

I was lucky enough to get into Saturday’s Open Book Forum, hosted by The University of Hong Kong, that had on its esteemed panel Stephen Fry, Frederick Forsyth and Andrew Roberts which covered a didactic spread of writing genres. It was chaired by Sir David Tang and was held in Loke Yew Hall in the Main Building of The University of Hong Kong.

[Anna Kushchenko Chapman came up during the open book forum! Pic from AP.]

The forum was titled: "How and What and Why do Writers Write?" and there was a good two hours of witty banter, poor jokes and good ribbing from everyone … including the audience. Here are some of the quotes, anecdotes and put downs that I remembered:


Frederick Forsyth: I write for a living, for money. I have no need to fulfill myself and have no message for the human race.

David Tang: Thank you for your dishonesty.


Stephen Fry: I seem to get ideas when I’m in bed so I use a black marker pen and write on my leg! When I wake up in the morning, I’ve got black marks down my leg and on my sheets (audience laughs).

David Tang: What? Why?

Stephen Fry: It’s better than switching on the light, and then getting a pen and paper.

David Tang: It’s a good job you sleep alone!

Stephen Fry: I suppose I could write on somebody else!

Andrew Roberts: For me, it’s about writing well, the quality. I write also for the self-teaching and the fact that it can inspire.

QUESTION from a HKU professor and Pro-vice-chancellor: You all mentioned English authors that inspired you, but what about non-English novelists? Are there any non-English authors that have inspired you?

Frederick Forsyth: No.

Professor: (urging) It can be French, German …

Frederick Forsyth: Er, no (shakes his head)

David Tang: (To the professor) What part of No don’t you understand? (audience laughs)

Andrew Roberts: The author (name??) of the History of the Phoenician Wars is a non-English inspiration to me.

Stephen Fry: Yes, I have noticed James Joyce and Oscar Wilde were non-English. (audience erupts) American writers have been slightly less influential to me. Dostoevsky I do love, for the story and psychology … it’s fantastic. But for me it begins with language, so I can’t really claim they [Dostoevsky, etc] are influential for their language. It’s not my native tongue and I can’t apologise for it.

Stephen Fry: (continuing with the theme) I read in today’s South China Morning Post about the issue of dialects here …
(see here for China Droll’s view)

David Tang: It all started after 1997 when they started with promoting Mandarin here. Cultural diversity is very important. It was Mao who made everyone use Mandarin, but I don’t think Mao understood culture very well. Hong Kong should use Cantonese and English. I don’t want Hong Kong to become like Singapore … you know, where they speak three languages … badly. (audience erupts)


Stephen Fry: I have a conversation with myself in writing. In other words I write a diary. “Oh Stephen, what’s the matter with you?” It sounds mad, but it’s using writing as a way of getting over a problem. By arguing with myself in a diary, that’s the way I do it. It seems to work.

Frederick Forsyth: No, I don’t get it. (audience laughs) For me, writing is a job; it’s not an indulgence, it’s a job. If you get paid to do it, then you damn well do it.

Andrew Roberts: I have two ultimate cures for writers block: alimony and mortgage. (audience laughs … and groans)

Sir David Tang, on selecting a questioner from the floor who was wearing a rather noticeable light pink jacket with a lilac carnation pinned on the lapel.

David Tang: Where did you get it from?

Questioner: Not from Shanghai Tang, I’m afraid! (audience erupts)

David Tang: (Quickly) OK, what’s your question?

Questioner: If The New Yorker were to commission you to write 5,000 words on any subject, what would it be?

Frederick Forsyth: Something contemporary, such as the discovery of 10 Russian Intelligence Agency spies living in American suburbia doing nothing in particular.

David Tang: One of them was quite attractive!

Frederick Forsyth: Yes, one of them was actually a British citizen and there’s a stupid law we have where they took away her passport and told her that she mustn’t come back. I thought she was an absolute, absolute … winner. (audience laughs)
[Forsyth (a man of 71 years) was referring to 28-year-old "winner" Anna Chapman, the spy ring’s femme fatale]

David Tang: All right (calm down Fred).

Stephen Fry: I’m afraid I’m either an artist or a hack, I’m not much in between. I have nothing that I would want to write in The New Yorker. Why would I want to write in The New Yorker? It doesn’t appeal to me at all. (audience laughs)
Just as an example, Time Magazine rang me up in January and said: as you may know there is a new device coming out and we want to do a big article about the new device (the iPad), and Steve Jobs said that they wouldn’t allow us unless you (Stephen Fry) did it. So I said OK I’ll do that, so I flew to San Francisco to interview Steve Jobs for Time Magazine and I loved it. That to me was joy, it was pornography, and sweet chops, and drugs all rolled into one. I love that sort of thing. So if The New Yorker wanted me to write about the history of Apple or smart phones, then I would do that. I wouldn’t do anything else.

David Tang: Not even for a million pounds?

Stephen Fry: No. (smiles)

Andrew Roberts: I love The New Yorker. I’ve started to fall in love with New York. I’d like to write an article about what it’s like to be an Englishman who’s moved to New York. And dismiss some of the myths about New York. A city that never sleeps, what rubbish. We’re all tucked up in bed by 930pm. The other day I was invited to dinner at 530pm. I’d like to take the Mickey out of America.

Stephen Fry: Incidentally I have written for The New Yorker. I have nothing against it. It’s a wonderful magazine.

David Tang: All right. (and the forum carries on for a few more questions, quotes, anecdotes and put downs)

It was an enjoyable, pleasant Saturday morning.

1 comment:

  1. I have been keenly anticipating The Cobra from Frederick Forsyth, though the list given in the beginning is slightly disturbing, can’t track all of them.