21 May 2015

Love, loss and pobbling with Vikram Seth

I confess I had never pobbled in my life, nor indeed did I even know what the word meant, but in interviewing Vikram Seth it seemed the pobbling had to come before the talking as a kind of right of passage.

His gorgeous house on the outskirts of Salisbury was the home of the great 17th century poet of the divine – George Herbert.

Seth himself is a very considerable poet in his own right and has recently produced Summer Requiem, which is about loss.

He recently broke up with his long term love, Philippe Honoré, the violinist.

I’d been told that Seth had writer’s block and that A Suitable Girl has long been due to follow his worldwide bestseller, A Suitable Boy.

Before we pobbled – more of that in a moment – he took me around the house.

The kitchen table groaned with books and files and cannot have seen a meal set upon it in years. The larder shelves cascade with the details of characters and places that he’s juggling in his new book.

He says he sometimes writes in the kitchen, sometimes in the music room but most often in bed.

But upon gazing at his bed , still unmade, with very freshly laundered sheets and many pillows, there was no sign of pen, paper, nor laptop.

So that pobbling.

On our way to the bench at the bottom of the garden, across the river – walking across the bridge he urged me to take my shoes and socks off, roll my trousers up above the knee and jump into the waters below – they were not deep.

We strode across the beautifully round pebbles and little pieces of drifting weed on our way to the far bank.

The pobbling involved getting the soles of your feet used to the little round pebbles. I had learnt a new word.

Unquestionably writing again

In talking to Seth and having him read some of his poems to me – I realised that whatever the unmade bed may have suggested, he is, in a literary sense, on fire.

He is unquestionably writing again – may even be writing right now as you read this.

He is well into A Suitable Girl but still has no idea how long it will be – what he does know is that he will deliver it next year to his new publisher.

Penguin asked him to return his very large advance amid some acrimony – which seemed to indicate he missed a deadline.

Despite his lost love, Seth seems at peace with the world or at least as much peace as a man who awakes in the morning to play Candy Crush. A jarring contrast from the awaiting Steinway in the music room below.

Vodka – his lost love’s cat – seems to dominate his life; he cat-sits whenever the violinist is on tour. Or as he suggested to me, a cat human-sits, checking on his every move.

If it’s not candy crush it’s sculpting, calligraphy, translation (he speaks Hindi, Mandarin, Welsh and much more) or simply padding around the rural wasteland that he gazes upon from the windows of George Herbert’s house.

I’m putting in my order for A Suitable Girl, so confident am I that his block is done.

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