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The Conversation: 'It seemed a guitar and a car was all you needed to get a girl'

By Oscar Quine

Louis de Bernières: The 61-year old author of Captain Corelli's Mandolin on his rock-star ambitions and how Greece was let down by the EU

Latin America and the Mediterranean loom large in your work. How did you end up living somewhere as different from those places as Norfolk?

I moved here for the house rather than the region. It's a Georgian house that needs a lifetime of DIY so it's perfect for me. But it is great to be by the seaside and we get excellent seafood. There's a lot more elbow room than in the south of England. Surrey is hilly and beautiful but you spend half your life stuck in a traffic jam.

I heard you only read Latin-American novels until you were 35. Did you not have much time for "the canon"?

No, no, it's just that I read the Latin American canon as well as ours.

And was there a particularly formative book for you in your late-teen to early-adulthood years?

My parents had books on their shelves - fiction and non-fiction - about the Second World War. But there was one book I loved called Moonfleet. It was about smuggling and missing jewels and there was a love interest. Then I became a fan of Hardy. I loved him and Steinbeck.

You've said at 18 you wanted to be Bob Dylan. What happened that made you become an author instead?

I think my vocation probably was always to be a writer. I started off writing poetry, which isn't far off writing songs. But by 30, I realised I didn't want to be a rock star. Being on the road is no life at all. And Bob Dylan isn't so much of an influence any more. But, for me, back in those days, it seemed that a guitar and a car was all you needed to get a girl.

How do you find book tours then?

I actually enjoy them very much, although I'm never on the road nowadays. In America, it's extraordinary. You'll go all over the continent with an afternoon in each city. I began insisting on an extra day in each place for tourism, which is maybe why they never invited me back. But talking is far easier than playing music. If you make the slightest mistake with music people will notice, but if you trip up in a sentence no one cares.

What about Greece now, politically?

Greek politics has always been polarised. It's been missing the middle ground. I cannot understand how, after what happened under the Nazis, they could tolerate having parties such as Golden Dawn. Ultimately, it was the Europeans Union's fault for allowing them in when they were not ready. It's up to France and Germany now to get them out of this pickle.

'Captain Corelli' enjoyed word-of-mouth success. Do you ever wonder what would have happened had it not taken off?

I think I would've been fine. I gave up my job teaching truants in Battersea as soon as I earned the same money writing, which was before it came out. I suppose I would've carried on writing Latin American novels. I think I would have written more if it weren't for Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I spent the next 10 years in the middle of this thing, with all the promotion and not much time to write.

Did it matter to you whether you were an acclaimed writer?

Not really. I didn't ever think I would be. It was more of a strange compulsion than a career move. It could've been disastrous as the latter. I knew people who gave up their careers to become rock stars, but they ended up teaching in schools on the other side of the borough.

How many novels do you have left in you?

I have about five and plenty of poetry. I write parts of them and leave them to see if I like them when I come back to them. I would quite like to only write poetry, but I think if you get inspiration it's treachery not to follow it up.

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