I am sometimes asked how I find time for writing when I have such an absorbing, full-time job, as running the BBC’s Third Programme. Most of my writing is done at week-ends and it is surprising how much can be achieved in this way. Between Friday night and Monday morning it is no great task to write a couple of thousand words and at this rate I could produce a novel every year – which is more than I want to produce. The writer who feels that he has a novel a year to work out of his system strikes me as a little too self-indulgent. The temptation is certainly there. For me writing is a perpetually pleasurable activity. I compose straight on to the typewriter and the first, early morning tappings give me the same lift as a guard’s whistle or a ship’s siren. Another journey has begun.
The years I spent in Egypt, at the Foud 1st University, were enormously important to me. For the first time I could look at the world though non-Christian and non-European eyes. In spite of the political tensions, like any other Englishman I made friends. Nothing could be more natural for me than to write a novel about friendship between an Englishman and an Egyptian at a time when both men are forced to strike political attitudes. The Egyptians are such a humorous, fantastic people that there is no need to be solemn when writing of an Englishman’s adventures among them, particularly if it is made clear that the English are, in their own way, fantastic and humorous too.
My earlier novel, A Picinic at Sakkara, was set in the Egypt of King Forouk. It introduced Edgar Perry and Muawiya Khaslat and tried to say something hopeful about Anglo-Egyptian relations. The Suez crisis came along to reveal that this hope would have to be built on rather different foundations. A Guest and His Going was born when I thought of bringing the Egyptian to London and seeing how his friendship with Edgar Perry developed when the animosity between their two countries had never been stronger. Once again it was a comedy.
P.H. Newby, CBE: novelist, historian, and managing director of BBC Radio. First winner of the Booker Prize in 1969.
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