Graham Reid | | 2 min read
When the India-born, Oxford and Stanford-educated author Vikram Seth came to New Zealand in 1988 he was still some years away from his acclaimed and enormous novel A Suitable Boy.
He was on a book tour-cum-holiday and being taken around by the PR woman for his publisher to talk about his two books so far: From Heaven Lake; Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet, and a poetry novel The Golden Gate, a brilliantly satirical piece about yuppies in San Francisco written in sonnet form.
When his name was raised at a Herald writers' meeting as a possible interview subject people just looked blankly, but I said I'd read both books.
And I had.
Suddenly the long-haired guy who'd only been there a few months and wrote about rock music – and was weird enough to genuinely like jazz – had another hidden dimension.
And so I met with the charming Vikram Seth in a small featureless room at the Herald and we started to chat.
I was the last person he'd be seeing on his tour and with exasperation but generosity he said no one who had interviewed him had actually read a single word he'd written.
When I said I'd read both books he clapped his hands in delight and the allotted 15 minutes turned into almost an hour before he was beckoned away by his minder.
It had been an excellent interview, more a conversation really, and I went back to my desk aglow.
But when I rewound the tape and listened back – I didn't do shorthand then, still don't – not a word had been captured.
I was distraught but wise Colin Hogg, my entertainment editor, said to just go to a quiet place and see what I could reconstruct.
So I did: I looked at my questions and – because he spoke with such a distinctive accent, vaguely American with Indian inflections – I could recall huge swathes of what he said.
I knew I had my story and if the words weren't always exactly what he said – and I shifted some into reported speech – they were certainly as close as dammit.
He would be fairly represented.
I wrote up my substantial interview and passed it over to a sub-editor called Dennis so it could appear as a feature the following day.
Later however he passed my desk and with a dismissive aside said some ads had come in and he'd had to cut my piece.
My heart sank, I knew what that could mean.
When I left the Herald I thanked the subs because, as I pointed out, they could save a writer from looking foolish or ending up in court.
I didn't say that on one occasion a sub said they'd had to cut a piece and I caught it before it went to the compositors.
“But, you've cut off the punchline,” I wailed.
“Then you shouldn't have put it at the end,” she said.
I salvaged that one, but the morning after my Vikram Seth interview I picked up the paper.
My published interview was about a quarter of what I had presented.
Dennis had cut out every single “quote”.
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