An Interview with Charlie Lovett
Charlie Lovett was born in North Carolina, USA in 1962. In 1984 he went into the antiquarian book business and started researching and collecting material relating to Lewis Carroll and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He has written five books and countless articles on the author and has served as the president of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, president of The Lewis Carroll Foundation, as well as editor for other Lewis Carroll organizations. Lovett has also lectured on Carroll in the US and Europe at such institutions as Harvard University, UCLA, and Oxford University.
In 2001 Lovett started writing children’s plays, fourteen of which have been published including his first, Twinderella, which won the Shubert Fendrich Playwriting Award. The plays have been seen in over three thousand productions all over the US and in more than twenty countries abroad.
Charlie Lovett has also written various non-fiction and fiction books, his latest novel The Bookman’s Tale will be published by Alma Books in July 2013.
1) What led you into writing?
I have always enjoyed writing. Even when I was a child I liked books and stories and by the time I was in high school I was especially drawn to creative writing. I wrote a few stories in college and when I went into the rare book business, the writing bug never left me. I decided to pursue writing more seriously in the 1990s and I studied for and received my MFA at Vermont College. Writing, in some form or other, has always been part of my life and I hope it always will. I suppose I was first drawn to writing by the simple act of enjoying stories—stories that were at first read to me and that later I could read for myself.
2) What was your earliest career aspiration?
I wasn’t one of those who children who clamored to be an adult, so I can’t recall wanting to be a firefighter or a policeman or any of the standard uniformed desires of six-year-old boys. I loved being outdoors, so I suppose if you had asked me, when I was a child, what I wanted to be when I grew up I might have said something like “tree-climber” or “a man who tromps about in the forest.” As an adolescent and university student I was interested in the theatre—especially acting and directing but also designing and playwriting. From the earliest stages of adulthood, however, I was interested in books and interested in doing things relating to books. Most of my career has been related to the printed word in some way or other.
3) Can you describe your latest book The Bookman’s Tale and its inspiration in thirty words?
Inspired by my love of rare books and English countryside, The Bookman’s Tale tells of a grieving antiquarian bookseller who discovers something that could change the history of English literature.
4) Do you have any plans for your next book?
Yes. The first draft is complete and the second draft is about a third of the way done. The working title of my next novel is First Impressions. Like The Bookman’s Tale, it features a literary mystery, but this time the subject of the intrigue is Jane Austen, who features as a major character in the book.
5) What has been the most exciting moment in your career?
There have been a lot, but I think I would have to say the most exciting was when The Bookman’s Tale was bought by a big New York publisher. I was having a conversation with my agent and the entire experience seemed surreal, because I had played the exact same conversation in my fantasies a thousand times over the years, and suddenly I was having it in real life.
6) What are you reading right now?
I just finished The Aviator’s Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh written by my friend Melanie Benjamin. Next up is another historical novel by a friend, Erika Roebuck’s Call Me Zelda. When I finish my US book tour, I’ll have a lot more time for reading. I may return to some of my favorite Tom Sharpe books. I read about his death recently, and he’s always been one of my summertime guilty pleasures—a marvelous comic novelist who never fails to entertain me.
7) If you could have dinner with any three people, past or present, who would they be?
Would they need to like each other? That’s always been my question about these fantasy dinner parties. I mean you wouldn’t want to end up picking people from different historical eras only to discover that they don’t get along (who knows what Moses, Buddha, and Nelson Mandela would think of each other?) But taking general human politeness as a given, I think I would want to dine with people from different walks of life and different time periods who could teach me different things, but also people with whom I had some familiarity, so we wouldn’t be starting the conversation from scratch. Off the top of my head Lewis Carroll (because I have studied and written so much about him—though he would probably hate that), Franklin Roosevelt (because I’d want to dine with a US president and he did it for longer than anyone and shaped the society that I grew up in), and William Shakespeare (because I’d love to know what he would think of The Bookman’s Tale but also I’d just like to hear what life was like 500 years ago—the sort of stuff you can’t read in books).
8) Which period in history would you most like to have lived through?
I often think of how lucky I am to have been born when I was. I have indoor plumbing, but missed out the two modern world wars; the knowledge of the world is at my fingertips; I can travel the globe with relative ease; and I can go into my local shop in the USA and buy milk chocolate McVities digestives. But if I’d had to live in another era, it would probably be Victorian England—partly because I have studied that period so much as part of my book collecting and writing. I love the Pre-Raphaelites; I love Dickens; I love the idea of traveling by railway when it was both new and (in England) ubiquitous. But of course I would want to live in the Victorian England of writers and actors and artists and trips to the seaside, not the one with mines and factories and misery for the workers. It’s a good example of what makes it tough to choose a time period: every era was good for some people and pretty wretched for others.
9) If your house was on fire, which three books would you save from the flames?
Well of course I would chose items that are unique—irreplaceable. First, I’d pick something from my Lewis Carroll collection—probably one of my inscribed copies of Alice. One of my favorites is a copy Lewis Carroll inscribed to one of the children who acted in the original West End stage production of Alice in 1886. I’ve inherited a few books from family members, so second I would take one of those—maybe my great aunt’s copy of The Annotated Alice or my grandfather’s copy of The Romance of King Arthur, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Finally, I’d take a worthless old French textbook that belonged to my mother when she was a teenager. I discovered it 35 years after her death and it not only has her notes and scribbles throughout, it has the bright red marks of her lips on the endpaper where she blotted her lipstick.
10) What do you do to relax?
I love to go to the movies or the theatre with my wife Janice. We have similar tastes and enjoy talking about what we have seen afterwards—figuring out what made it succeed or discussing why we felt it failed, recasting, redirecting, etc. I like to talk walks often with my wife but sometimes (especially when I’m working on a book) alone. I recently got a pool table in my office and while I’m not particular good, I do find playing relaxing. I play piano as well—mostly by ear but I love that it takes just enough focus that I can’t think of anything else, but not so much that it’s not relaxing.
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