One of the comments made as the bookshop representative introduced Lloyd was that Mister Pip had "significantly outsold" the winner of the Booker prize - AFTER the winner was announced! He was obviously impressed by this and stated that it had never happened before. Here in London, people are talking about and obviously buying this book.
Lloyd was "interviewed" by Mark Collins, who is the director of the Commonwealth Foundation, responsible for the Commonwealth Writers Prize. While it was a question on many people's lips, I was somewhat surprised to hear the first question Mark had of Lloyd was about what Lloyd thought about meeting the Queen earlier that day (which he got to do as part of his Commonwealth writer's prize). Lloyd too was obviously somewhat quizzical about this line of questioning, even asking the audience whether we really wanted to hear about this. Of course we did, so he somewhat reluctantly shared his experience with us, down to hearing and seeing the many corgis running around Buck Palace. It must be true then. I loved hearing that!
There was some debate between Lloyd and Mark as to whether the Queen was stretching her hand to reach some buzzer on the side table signalling to her aides that the audience was over and she wanted out of there, or whether she was touching wood after her statement that she had never been in an earthquake (which she referred to after talking about Lloyd coming from Wellington!).
Royal obligations concluded, Lloyd then talked very eloquently about Mister Pip and also of Great Expectations, which, for those few of you who may not have read this fabulous book, features EXTREMELY prominently. When asked whether he was a great fan of Great Expectations, Lloyd told us about how this was the first adult book he had ever read, aged 8 or 9 when he read it as a "bit of an adventure." On returning to the book as an adult, he saw it as a book which had a great message to immigrants in that "Mr Watts shows how he had the opportunity to leave his background behind." For the children of Bougainville, such a war torn island, there was the message through Pip's background that you can and do have some control and that through their relationship with Mr Dickens, they were not necessarily stuck with the brutality of the island, there was some escape, albeit to London in 1861.
I loved the expression Lloyd used to describe classics as tending to "end up in a trampers hut in New Zealand." See what I mean about having a great turn of phrase?
Lloyd read to us two pieces from the book including one of my favourite bits where people came to the classroom to share their knowledge with the children. The grandmother talking about the colour blue is an exceptional piece of writing and it sounded even better when read out loud by the very person who put those words in such beautiful order and who made us think about how we see the world (as did the grandmother with the children). Mark asked Lloyd where he got those stories from, and in a very typical kiwi Jonesy-ish style, Lloyd replied "I just made them up." Brilliant!
There was also some discussion on the implications for Lloyd on his nomination for the Man Booker prize - the "glitzy" side to writing. Lloyd declared that he was somewhat ambivilient about prizes, as they are "terrific if you win but not worth much if you don't." The booksellers may disagree with this but I got the impression that Lloyd was quite keen to get back out of the limelight. He did say that his "ambition for a book goes into the writing of the book" and that he felt he had lately been working as an "ambassador to Mister Pip for the last year which means I am not a writer any more."
Lloyd talked about what it meant to be a kiwi writer but first declaring that he was always introduced as a New Zealand author here, and he did seem to have a bit of an issue with that label in some ways, perhaps just another signal of wanting to get back into just being "a writer rather than an author." He described coastal people as having "horizons which inhabit our souls" - and therefore a focus or extreme interest in what lies beyond the distance, and on our apartness, and our aloneness (as opposed to loneliness).
For this kiwi in London, I also was struck by the idea Lloyd talked about in that we (us coastal people) are also driven to go to the source of the influence on our lives, and in his opinion, that is why there are so many antipodeans in the UK (see it's not just for the amazing salaries we can earn here and all the fun on offer!).
This blog in itself is also a good demonstration of another point that Lloyd made. NZ's aloneness does not have to be a disadvantage any more, as "today it has all changed; electronically we are all hooked up to the same world and we are seeing the same things, living in the same moment". While you may not have actually lived in the same moment as me hearing Lloyd Jones talk at the Daunt bookshop in Marylebone High Street, W1, London, I hope this has gone some way to sharing what I found to be a fascinating hour (rather than moment) spent with a truly fantastic ambassador of not only Mister Pip, but also New Zealand.
PS : We had quite a giggle when (English) Mark Collins said that "blimmin" was an example of the pigeon spoken in PNG.....
PPS: Catherine, Lloyd signed a hardback copy of Mister Pip for you so that's my christmas shopping nearly finished!