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Geoff Dyer on Writing Books as an Excuse to Learn About Things


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Celebrated author Geoff Dyer, who has written books on subjects as diverse as Andrei Tarkovsky, jazz, photography, and yoga, talks to Gideon Jacobs for The Creative Independent. Dyer discusses Garry Winogrand, the pleasures of teaching, and why writing is mainly a matter of momentum. Here’s an excerpt:

Where do you usually begin? Do you start with an opportunity? Or do you start with an idea?

It always begins where I’ve got some sort of place or situation, and then I have something I want to say about it, and start writing about it. Then it assumes its form. To go way back, I was living a certain life in Brixton in the 1980s, and I wanted to report on it. Then gradually, what was intended to be a very casual form of journalism became a sort of novel. Maybe Paris Trance was different, because I really went to Paris knowing I wanted to write a version of Tender Is The Night. Then, there’s Jeff in Venice, *Death in Varanasi, when I went with Rebecca [Wilson] to the Biennale in Venice, and after we’d been there for about four days I said, “God, maybe I quite like the idea of doing a version of Death In Venice set during the Biennale.” Then when we turned up in Varanasi, which reminded me so much of Venice, that’s when I had the idea of, “Oh yeah, Venice and Varanasi combined.”

So yeah, for fiction it tends to be just places and a situation that has some potential. With the non-fiction books, they’re either about places, like Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It and White Sands, or there’s something I’m interested in, like jazz or photography, and the book is an opportunity to learn more about that subject. Books have been a way of sort of funding this project of continuing self-education. The Ongoing Moment happened because I thought, “I really want to learn a lot about photography, so I’ll write a book about it.”

Image of Geoff Dyer via gsd.harvard.edu.