Ramona Koval presents ‘The Book Show’ on ABC Radio National, heard weekdays across Australia, and podcast globally. She makes documentary features for radio, and has written newspaper features and columns on issues of the day.
Transcripts of her interviews have been published in international newspapers, magazines, and in digital form. She has been invited to interview writers at literary festivals in Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Montreal, Berlin, and all over Australia.
She is the author of a novel, Samovar, and four books of non-fiction, including a Jewish cookbook. She has worked as an academic at RMIT University and the University of Melbourne, and before that as a microbiologist and geneticist.Ramona Koval has been praised as a master of the interview genre, renowned for engaging writers in conversations that are incisive, provocative, and often funny.
In this new collection, Speaking Volumes: conversations with remarkable writers, she shares the most fascinating interviews from her 2005 book Tasting Life Twice, along with brand-new ones with some of the most important writers of our times.
Through Koval, we are privy to the extraordinary minds of Joseph Heller, Joyce Carol Oates, Mario Vargas Llosa, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, David Malouf, P. D. James, John Mortimer, Ian McEwan, Amos Oz, Gore Vidal, Harold Pinter, John le Carré, Barry Lopez, Malcolm Bradbury, William Gass, Judith Wright, Les Murray, Fay Weldon, A. S. Byatt, Margaret Drabble, Martin Amis, Toni Morrison, André Brink, John Banville, Jeanette Winterson, Hanif Kureishi, and Anne Enright, among others.
Melbourne-based publishers, Scribe Publications, (voted best small publisher in Australia three times in the past 4 years), have kindly given me permission to reproduce the concluding paragraphs of her nine page introduction called The Art of the Interview and which I reckon all Literary Festival organisers should make obligatory reading by every chairperson responsible for interviewing authors.
The idea is, I think, to understand that people are interested in the writer and not the interviewer, and that short questions and a nudge in a certain direction are more important than a disquisition by the interviewer in an effort to show how clever they are or how much they have read.
The other skill is to listen carefully, especially for the openings in conversation that are offered by the writer in an aside, a slip, a look, a gesture, a moment of hesitation; these are the ways through to new territory, the things that make you both think on your feet.
These interviews are not like those in the Paris Review where authors correct and revise their answers and sign off on the final product. Those interviews can be fascinating; but these are more spontaneous, the product of the alchemy of the moment, of intense preparation and a natural and compulsive curiosity, of voracious reading and delight in being completely immersed in the world and the work of the writer.
Reading through these interviews once more, I see that I am drawn again and again to questions of how one evaluates a life, the getting of wisdom, facing death, the meaning of love, whether a book ever changed the course of history, all mediated through the brilliant use of language.Big questions.
To which these great writers give, for our delight, the best of answers.
My thanks to Ramona Koval (right) for an illuminating and fascinating set of interviews and to Scribe Publications for pulling them together in this superb book.