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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Charlotte McLaughlin

Kazuo Ishiguro: I come up with book titles by looking through cookbooks

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sir Kazuo Ishiguro has said he comes up with book titles by looking through cookbooks with his wife.

The Japanese-born author, 69, who moved to the UK as a child, is known for 2005’s Never Let Me Go and 1989’s The Remains Of The Day, for which he won the Man Booker Prize.

Speaking at the Southbank event An Evening with Kazuo Ishiguro and Stacey Kent, in Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Sir Kazuo joked that he is “not complaining about being with his wife” Lorna MacDougall for more than 30 years, before explaining that they have spent that time coming up with the names of future books.

He added: “If we’re talking and we come across, we just say something that might be a good title, or actually, (I’m) sorry to admit this, but we actually have this thing where we open the book at random, it could be a random cookery book or something, and you stick your finger, you mustn’t look.

“And then you look to see what phrase you’re pointing at and you do this about 30 times, and we come up with about five titles.”

Sir Kazuo says that “you end up with this kind of list of great titles that don’t have any works to go with them” – citing opening up Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa’s The War Of The End Of The World and finding The Scene Of A Strange Battle.

He said: “I have to admit, sometimes I’ve got the title, because it’s a near match to a story or book for which I don’t have a title and, I think If I just tweak that scene a little bit and just have one of my characters utter this line then I could use this great title.”

Sir Kazuo also talked about how confused he is by fellow writers who do not know how they will finish a book.

“I’m really surprised that people don’t worry more about what happens when the thing ends,” he said.

“Because for me, that’s always a real priority, often when … I’m stuck for ages, because I don’t know what to do next, I’m stuck, because I can’t quite see how you make this material linger, you know, days, months, years after the reader has experienced it, because that, for me is one of the most important things.

“And it always amazes me that other writers don’t worry about this, maybe it’s just me, maybe it doesn’t matter, (people) have a great time reading a book (and) forget it.”

He was asked during the talk about his songwriting for American jazz singer Stacey Kent, which is explored in the recently published The Summer We Crossed Europe In The Rain: Lyrics For Stacey Kent, talking about travel in a more environmentally conscious world.

Sir Kazuo said that “travel is so ingrained in our artistic expressions” as an “expression of yearning for new things, or for the sorrow of exile” among other ideas.

“When human beings first started to tell stories and sing songs to each other, I bet you travel figured in them,” he added.

“I don’t think we’re going to get to net zero any faster by cutting back on artistic references but I think that if you’re right, we do have to be perhaps… we should be more conscious.

“(Jim) Tomlinson and Ishiguro songs tend to celebrate trams and trains, I have to say, rather than air travel.”

The Remains Of The Day was his third novel and was adapted into a film starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, which earned them both Academy Award nominations, and the 1993 adaptation a total of eight Oscar nods.

Sir Kazuo is also a film writer and wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for the 2022 film Living, about a civil servant, played by Bill Nighy, who embraces life after he finds out he is dying.

He was taking part in a series of events for the Southbank Centre’s Spring Literature and Spoken Word Season.

Also announced for the series is drag queen and reality TV judge RuPaul and author Sir Salman Rushdie, who will be speaking virtually.

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