Damian Skinner, writer, artist and ex-Unity Shop-girl, will be gracing Unity Books Wellington once again for the launch of his most recent book Theo Schoon: A Biography on Monday 12th November 2018, 6-7:30pm. Below are Damian’s author interview answers (including a wonderful quote from Colm Toibin).
About the book
Émigré artist Theo Schoon was fascinating, unorthodox, controversial, pioneering and at times reckless. His life intersected with important cultural periods and places, where what it meant to be modern in New Zealand was being debated and articulated in art, literature, music and theatre.Schoon’s is a life less well known now than it deserves to be. This superb, highly illustrated biography by one of New Zealand’s best art writers corrects that imbalance and examines Schoon’s claims on the development of art and culture in Aotearoa in the twentieth century.
About the author
Damian Skinner is an art historian, writer and former museum curator. He is interested in the history of cultural contact between Māori and Pākehā and the relationship between art and politics in Aotearoa New Zealand. He is the author of numerous well-regarded books.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
As I write this, I am in Dallas, Texas, and I am reading a book about American architect Philip Johnson’s long involvement with the state. I found the book in the library of the house where I am staying. It is a proper library, with tall bookshelves and one of those moving ladders to reach up high.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
I’m not sure I have a favourite author, but if I had to choose one, it would probably be Ursula Le Guin, the American sci-fi and fantasy writer. She writes sci-fi like an anthropologist, and fantasy like a poet. I’m a little bit in awe of how wise her books are, and how beautifully written.
WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
I have Lamentation by C.J. Sansom. It is one of a series about a crime-solving lawyer in Tudor England. I’ve been reading the previous five, and I am totally beguiled by them.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
I can tell you what my least favourite one is: The Cider House Rules by John Irving. I loved that book, and then when I went to the film the character of Melony – who is totally critical – was missing. I know why John Irving, who wrote the screenplay, did it, but some things cannot be forgiven.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
Every couple of years I re-read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, and Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. I first read the Eco novel at university, and it helped me understand postmodernism. Now I just read it because it is so smart. My secret fantasy is to write a novel based on The Name of the Rose but transplanted to Rotorua in the early twentieth century. Le Guin’s book fascinates me because it seems to have grown with me as a reader. It spoke to me as a teenager and now it tells me interesting things about being a middle-aged man.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen, from Peter Hoeg’s novel Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
There is a huge (intellectually and size-wise) book that art historian Joseph Leo Koerner wrote about the painters Bruegel and Bosch. I saw it at Unity in Auckland and almost bought it, but in the end I didn’t. I still think about it sometimes, and how much I would love to read that.
WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?
I’ve always thought the Roman senator and philosopher Cicero would be interesting, but if I am honest it is probably so I could get access to his ideas without reading his books. I’m not sure who Cicero would get along with, and so it is hard to say who else I would invite – I can’t think of anything worse than having to spend the evening encouraging everyone to get along, and dealing with a pissy Roman who doesn’t like the other guests.
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
Something from one of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries.
HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
I recently gave away all my books, in preparation for a change in career. I now have a cardboard box with some of the books I have written, and a couple of novels sitting on top of it.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?
‘He loved the glorious silence a morning brought, knowing that he had no appointments that afternoon, and no engagements that evening. He had grown fat on solitude, he thought, and had learned to expect nothing from the day but at best a dull contentment. Sometimes the dullness came to the fore with a strange and insistent ache which he would entertain briefly, but learn to keep at bay. Mostly, however, it was the contentment he entertained; the slow ease and the silence could, once night had fallen, fill him with a happiness that nothing, no society nor the company of any individual, no glamour or glitter, could equal.’ It is from Colm Toibin’s novel The Master, about the writer Henry James. If it wasn’t too long, I’d like it inscribed on my headstone.