Adam Begley is the author of Houdini: The Elusive American (2020); The Great Nadar, The Man Behind the Camera (2017); and Updike (2014). For many years the books editor of The New York Observer, he has been a Guggenheim fellow and a fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, London Review of Books, TLS, and Spectator. He lives with his wife in Cambridgeshire, England.
How has the current state of things impacted your writing life?
Writers practice a form of quarantine whether it’s required or not. The difference right now is that most of the world has joined us.
What are the ways you’ve been connecting to your community?
Like most people, I’ve spent more time on video calls and messaging platforms.
How do you stay focused?
With great difficulty. It’s one thing to retreat to your writing desk when all around you everyday life is busy and noisy and relentless – you try to shut it out. These days, in the countryside where I live, there’s very little to shut out. On the other side of my front door the quiet and the empty calm are very tempting. (And of course deceptive: sickness and suffering are keeping people busy in nearby towns and cities.)
Are there any quotes you use to inspire you now or anytime?
Philip Larkin’s short poem, “Days”:
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.