Waugh and the Q & A

Humorist Craig Brown writing in the Daily Mail makes a case for the elimination of the Q&A following any vocal presentation by an author. He is particularly bothered by the typical literary festival as a waste of time. In the article, Brown cites two Waughs in support of his position:

…the literary Q&A is a peculiarly modern institution, the product, as Auberon Waugh once observed, of contemporary readers being fed up with reading and contemporary writers being fed up with writing. In fact, literary festivals offer a complete holiday from literature: instead of reading and writing, readers now listen and writers talk.

The article concludes with this discussion of Evelyn Waugh and interviews:

Personally, I yearn for those pre-festival days when authors were not afraid to be nasty. To the best of my knowledge, Evelyn Waugh never appeared at a literary festival, and the few interviews he gave were notable for their terseness. In one BBC Home Service interview, he is asked:

‘Do you find it easy to get on with the man in the street?’

‘I’ve never met such a person.’

‘What about on buses or trains?’

‘I’ve never travelled in a bus and I’ve never addressed a stranger on a train.’

And whereas today’s authors love to make a song-and-dance in Q&As about how impossibly hard it is to write a book, Waugh takes quite a different line.

‘Nothing easier,’ he says.

While it is probably true that Waugh never appeared at a literary festival, they were not particularly prevalent in his day. The Hay-on-Wye event which marks the beginning of festival mania dates from 1988 (although there was a more modest festival in Cheltenham from 1949). Waugh did however conduct an extensive lecture tour in the United States, appearing in 13 cities, primarily at Roman Catholic colleges and universities. According to press reports of that tour, he seems to have allowed a Q&A at least after some of the lectures. And those same reports also consistently show him getting the better of it.


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