This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for June 21, 2017: The Arrival of the Past

June 21, 2017: birthday: Ian McEwan

It’s the birthday of English novelist Ian McEwan (books by this author) (1948), best known for his internationally best-selling novel Atonement (2001), about a young girl who starts a disastrous rumor. It was later made into a hit film starring Keira Knightley. McEwan tends to write about unsavory characters and situations, like incest and murder. He likes to choose unlikely and provocative ways to tell a story. His novel Nutshell (2016) is essentially a retelling of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, but told from the point of view of a fetus in his mother’s womb. His penchant for dark material has earned him the nickname “Ian Macabre” in the British press.

McEwan’s novels include The Comfort of Strangers (1981), Amsterdam (1998), and On Chesil Beach (2007). He’s fond of intense research for his books, like shadowing a neurosurgeon for two years for the novel Saturday (2003) and immersing himself in physics for Solar (2010).

When asked how his writing process has changed with the onset of technology, McEwan answered: “In the seventies I used to work in the bedroom of my flat at a little table. I worked in longhand with a fountain pen. I’d type out a draft, mark up the typescript, type it out again. Once I paid a professional to type a final draft, but I felt I was missing things I would have changed if I had done it myself. In the mid-eighties I was a grateful convert to computers. Word processing is more intimate, more like thinking itself. In retrospect, the typewriter seems a gross mechanical obstruction. I like the provisional nature of unprinted material held in the computer’s memory — like an unspoken thought. I like the way sentences or passages can be endlessly reworked, and the way this faithful machine remembers all your little jottings and messages to yourself. Until, of course, it sulks and crashes.”

About writing, he says, “Not being boring is quite a challenge.”