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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  July 6, 2021 12:30am-1:00am BST

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suspended work in the afghan city as the taliban makes a good fantasy is across the region a week after us troops completed their exit. over 1000 afghan soldiers have completed their exit. 0ver1000 afghan soldiers have been forced to flee across the border. at least 140 students have been kidnapped in northwest nigeria after the latest attack on a school. the military says 26 children were rescued. more than a thousand students have been seized by ransom since december. nine have been killed and more than 200 are still missing. england's covid lockdown will end in two weeks, despite scientists are urging caution as the number of cases are still rising. the prime minister says it's possible because 86% of adults have been vaccinated.
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now on bbc news, time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. in our culture of 24/7 news and trending social media reactions, it sometimes takes a novelist�*s eye to chart the deeper currents swirling beneath society's surface. my guest today relishes entering choppy waters and swimming against the cultural tide. lionel shriver is a british—based american writer whose fiction has addressed school shootings, obesity, economic crisis and, in her latest book, voluntary euthanasia. she is a contrarian, but is she also a combatant in the western world's culture wars?
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lionel shriver in new york, welcome to hardtalk. it's a pleasure to talk to you. it's a pleasure to have you on the show. would it be fair to say, judging from your recent writing, that your creative mind is increasingly preoccupied with ageing and with thoughts of mortality? um... short answer, yes. long answer, i think i've always had a morbid streak and also a strange consciousness of ageing. my first novel was written about a protagonist who was 59 years old and i look back
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on that rather comically because i thought that was old. well, you know, i hope it's not ungallant to say that you have crossed the 59 year threshold a few years ago. but... alas, yes. yeah. but the novel that you've just released, should we stay 0r should we go, it centres on two characters who we meet when i think they're in their late 50s. but we then follow them through after they make a decision. that is cyril and kay wilkinson, they make a decision that when they get to 80, or at least when kay, who's the younger one, when she gets to 80 years old, they're going to kill themselves to ensure that they neverfall into agonising dementia and physical decay. why did you play with that idea? well, i was first inspired by a stray remark by a friend of mine who announced, with some conviction, that she had no desire to live
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beyond the age of 80, after which things seem to be going downhill, and i was curious whether or not she would be proactive once she actually got to the age of 80 or would laugh at her silly younger self and carry on indefinitely. and, you know, ithink it throws up a lot of interesting moral and emotional questions. i mean, the couple in the novel, who both work for the nhs, have a lot of social consciousness as a result, and don't want to cost the nhs too much money as they age. and they've also watched kay's father deteriorate from dementia into a person that doesn't resemble the estimable father she grew up with. and it's all very well to make a vow when you're in your 50s
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that once you get to this unimaginable age that you'll call it quits. once you're really up against it, it's a different question. yeah. but, of course, for none of us at all is this just theoretical. it's real life for all of us, because not only are we ageing, but those of us who are lucky enough to still have parents around, we see them advancing in years as well. and i know this is personal for you because you've written about the fact that your parents, and particularly your mother is struggling a great deal with dementia. i think she's about to turn 90. so was that something very much in your mind as you wrote this? 0h, certainly what's happening with my parents has played a part in my interest. i mean, afterall, we... that's what we go through. if we're fortunate enough to have parents who, you know, last, then we also often have to go through the misfortune of watching them deteriorate.
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and that is very emotional, notjust because, you know, generally we care about them and treasure our images of our parents in their prime, but also it's, obviously, the writing on the wall. when you watch your parents get old, it's usually the first time you register on a really gut level that it's going to happen to you. you, ithink, relish plain speaking, so i'm going to ask you a very direct question. when you talk about your mum and you say that, you know, she is physically very disabled now, she's incontinent, she barely recognises anybody. and i'm asking this in the context of your novel. do you think that it would be better if she were able to end her own life as she wishes at the time of her own choosing? well, one of the... one of the difficulties of making these kinds of plans or vows on your own behalf
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is the kind of circumstance my mother finds herself in. she had a terrible stroke in 2015 and she's not really in any condition to make a decision like that. no doctor would take seriously an announcement from her that she had had enough. in fact, she often declares that... ..that she's ready to die. actually, the most profound thing i heard her say was that, "i don't want to die, but i need to die." but then she doesn't. and the... the body is just incredible, right? it really does just chug on and it wants to survive. and i think that, you know, because my work has often looked at the relationship between self and body, that's one of the curious things
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about ageing and deteriorating is that, whatever you may feel, you know, however enthusiastic or not you may be about continuing, the body wants to live, the body wants to survive, and the body doesn't get bored, the body doesn't feel unsatisfied with its life. so then, lionel shriver, it's a battle between the mind and the body. and you're a woman of very strong mind and, thank god, able—bodied, but are you, right now in your 60s, contemplating, like the character in your novel, stashing away a supply of deadly drugs so that there might come a time when you would say to yourself, "i want, while i can, i want to end my life before "it becomes agonising and counterproductive"? well, i haven't, like my characters, actually stashed
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a little black box at the top of the refrigerator. um... but i...i can see the attraction of... ..of feeling that you have some kind of control, not necessarily to leave the building whenever the least discomfort strikes, but to feel that they can exercise some kind of agency. and, you know, we seem to be, especially in britain, terribly paranoid about the so—called slippery slope, but what we would discover if we changed the law is not that we have this cascade of people queuing up to kill themselves, but how few would actually take advantage of such a law. it's intriguing to me that you wrote this novel clearly during the early phases, perhaps, of the pandemic and the pandemic is sort of a theme that runs
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through the book as these two people who worked in the nhs see thousands dying around them and they've already made a pact to kill themselves, even though they're perfectly able—bodied themselves. how has the pandemic affected you personally? i mean, did you find writing during a pandemic a very different experience? well, of course, there was, you know, loads of time and no interruptions so, in some ways, it was perfect for a writer. i mean, writers worth their salt would probably enjoy being in lockdown indefinitely. iwas... i was a little disturbed by how little my life changed because i stay home a lot anyway. um... you mean self—isolation is your natural state, is that what you're saying? it is indeed. yeah. and i got out of all those parties. it didn't really upset me.
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i mostly found the pandemic disturbing on a political level, because i think, you know, we've never responded to a disease by locking down all of society and telling healthy people they couldn't leave their home and enforcing it with the police. but there was a reason why liberties were curtailed. it wasn't simply because we have governors who want to repress us. it was for the collective good. there was something very collective about the response to the pandemic. did you not, in some ways, think that highly admirable? no, ididn�*t. i thought it was a panic response. imitative on a governmental level, it was imitating other countries and it set a gruesome precedent for the future. after all, we now have an understanding that
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if there is any perceived communal need, then we can rescind civil rights, and indefinitely. and every kind of civil right, including the right to protest that you don't want your civil rights taken away. it's interesting that you are known for your novels and they've been very successful notjust in the english—speaking world, but beyond, but in some ways right now you seem more energised — correct me if i'm wrong — by your role as a sort of outspoken provocateur in magazines, newspaper columns. i don't know how much you use social media, but you really get your opinions out there. do you think that, in some ways, is more culturally influential than your novels? i'm sad to say...probably. certainly my fiction career is more important to me,
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and i think that if my novels do endure, they have a better chance of lasting culturally than anything i write in non—fiction. 0n the other hand, not that many people read novels, honestly, so that the audience for columns and comment pieces is... right, but i wonder if, you know, this word i used, provocateur, that once you take that course, go down that track, of course you have to have opinions that do stir up a reaction, that provoke people, and maybe you relish that. now, i'mjust looking at some stuff you've written recently or said recently about immigration. you know, you've talked about this, "not being something one "is supposed to say, but the experience "of being taken over" — you meant by immigrants — "is not that different from a military takeover. "some people will celebrate
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the end of white hegemony. "maybe that is great, but i'm one of those "white people and it's hard to celebrate "with my heart and soul." i mean, that kind of railing against immigration, it is bound to cause great offence, is it not? i think immigration is an issue where people have told that they have to keep their mouths shut. i should clarify that i'm very big on immigration, if only because i myself am an immigrant to britain. you are. so a small, steady, controlled level of immigration is entirely healthy for any society. it brings fresh blood and new ideas and different perspectives. i have a different view of uncontrolled, mass, largely illegal immigration, and i think a lot of people agree with me. i mean, you talk about
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the scale of the uk's, quote, "ethnic transformation". you feel and see that, do you? that's your experience? well, anyone who lives in london is... ..has the ethnic transformation of britain up in face, and, no, i just think that cultural change is usually more graceful when it is gradual. and also the degree of transformation in europe in general is occurring without any consultation with the people who live there. do you think you've ever taken it too far, your desire to sort of, i suppose, get in people's faces with your views? i'm thinking particularly, this goes a way back now, but i think five years ago you went to australia to talk at a literary festival and you donned a sombrero for some of that speech to make a point of, i suppose, mocking the decision in an american college
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to reprimand some students for holding a mexican tequila party wearing sombreros, so you chose to wear a sombrero, and then you made a speech in which you hoped that the notion of cultural appropriation in fiction was a fad, and that caused a real storm. did you go over the top, do you think? no, i don't think so. i mean, first of all, i should clarify that that speech is widely misreported, and i wore a sombrero for exactly the last two words of that lecture. so it was just a little touch. and then, it gets widely reported that i wore it for the entire speech, which i find offensive mostly on a theatrical level. i mean, that's. .. that would be bad drama. i don't take back anything i said in that speech, which i don't think was especially radical. ido... i had been hoping that cultural
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appropriation as a taboo was a fad, and it's... i haven't taken that back. i think it probably is, but it's lasting longer than i hoped. and, just briefly, especially in fiction writing, i believe that if you are not given permission to inhabit the lives of people different from yourself, then there is no fiction. and i can't help but see that as a loss because i am a fiction writer. it is fascinating territory, sensitive territory. i mean, your contention is that you are going to write fiction, you are going to continue to write with all sorts of different voices, using your imagination to inhabit worlds, you know, maybe of a young black woman or a black man or an indigenous person from australia. i'm just guessing, i don't know, but there are no limits, no fetters on your ability and right to imagine yourself into any situation, into any other person.
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right? that's what you feel. broadly, yes, and then, you know, the reader is welcome tojudge whether i did a good job and whether this person is plausible. the upset caused by that, and i'm just going to quote to you the words of one member of the audience who walked out, who's an australian writer, yassmin abdel—magied... there was only one member who walked out, which got a lot of press. yeah, sure. she got a lot of press because she took seriously and thought seriously about what you said and she was appalled by it, you know, and she said that the reality is that those from marginalised groups, even today, don't get the luxury of defining their own place in a norm that is profoundly white, straight and often patriarchal. and she felt you were not allowing for that deep inequality that exists in the voices in literature, as in so many other parts of society. i don't think anything i said
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in that speech or outside it has suggested...has damaged marginalised peoples in the slightest. i'm just arguing for freedom of imagination for everyone. and that includes non—white writers writing about white people. i don't want to cling to my culture and say, you know, "oh, you know, i have german heritage and you "can't listen to beethoven." that's absurd. i want us to all relax and share what we know... right. ..and extend ourselves to each other. that's obviously one of the things that fiction is good for. but i guess... i guess your critics in the so—called progressive or woke community or whatever one calls it, but people who culturally are on a different side to you, they say, well, that's all fine,
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but you have to look at the realities, the systems and where power and control lies in culture and society today. and why not spend more time trying to address the structural inequalities? and they would then point to what you said after big publishing house penguin random house said that it was going to make its authors and staff members reflect more closely the uk's demographic balance across ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc, and you said that was completely unacceptable. and you said that it was going to be a complete sort of block on creativity. why? why is it? why can't there be efforts made to increase diversity? i have no problem with efforts made to increase diversity. ijust don't like racial quotas. i don't like quotas of any kind. and i value excellence above diversity, and i know that
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that's become a controversial position, but i think publishing companies should make decisions about what to sell to the public, primarily according to whether the book is any good and whether or not there is a market for that book. let me ask you this. are there creative sort of projects that you have considered that you will now no longer work on because you fear the sensitivities are just too hot, the backlash likely to be too difficult for you to deal with? no, i don't have any subjects that i feel are off limits because they're going to get me into trouble. there are subjects that i'm likely to avoid because i'm just not going to do a good enoughjob or the idea i get for the novel is insufficient to make a good book.
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i mean, that's how i make my decisions. it's just i'm interested, not long ago, you were asked the question, would you write a novel with a black protagonist at the centre of it, and you said, "i should feel perfectly happy about that idea "but i bet i never do it. "it strikes me as too dangerous." if i had a really great idea for a book and it had to have a black protagonist, i would give myself permission to do that. but i would not do so naively and i would know that i would be subject to a certain amount of scrutiny. and i find that having to anticipate that kind of scrutiny is disappointing. it's one of the difficulties of my era. and, you know, it's harder to be a novelist than it used to be. right, last question. some people who rail against quote—unquote "woke culture", they say that, you know, it's become a cancel culture, but it strikes me
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people like you are very far from being cancelled. you have a very prominent voice in the cultural life of the uk and the us as well right now. there isn't a cancel culture, is there? well, i'm afraid there is. there are any number of people who have lost theirjobs because of minor political perceived indiscretions. i have never complained that i have personally been subjected to some kind of cancellation. i've stirred up some hornet�*s nests on twitter, but i'm not even on twitter, so i haven't had to subject myself to them. so, you know, ithink i've been fortunate. i have personally never felt that what i say has been restricted. but i should clarify that the primary reason that i'm still here and still talking to you is that
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my publishing company, harpercollins, and the likes of the spectator, which publishes my column fortnightly, have stuck by me and have never told me there are things i can and cannot say. they haven't denounced me if i get bad press and i would like to see some more of that kind of courage at an institutional level. the whole so—called cancel culture problem is not really rooted in social media and with a bunch of activists who get upset at anything, but with people in positions of authority who run scared, are terrified of controversy and don't stick by their employees or their faculty or their writers. and that's the solution to any problem of cancel culture. lionel shriver, we have to end there, but i thank
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you very much indeed forjoining me on hardtalk. thank you. i enjoyed talking to you. hello there. monday was drier for a while across england and wales, but we certainly saw the weather going downhill from the south. the weather going downhill from this rain here is marching its way northwards across the uk up into northern england and scotland, where already in the past few days in edinburgh, we've had a month's worth of rain. now that early rain is moving away, but this area of low pressure is taking a band of rain — heavy at times — northwards up towards scotland
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and northern england with blustery showers following to the south. for a while, we will have some unseasonably windy weather along the coast of england all the way from dorset across to suffolk, gusts of 50 mph in the morning. it won't be as windy in the afternoon, but there will be some heavy showers around, and we have still got this more persistent rain, never really clearing away from northern england, pushing into eastern scotland. elsewhere, some brightness and maybe some sunshine. the showers are never too far away, and they may well be heavy as well. generally, temperatures a bit lower on tuesday, 18—19 typically, could be chillier than that where it stays wet in northern england and eastern scotland. and as we've seen, there are some showers around, they could well affect wimbledon once again. it's going to be another day where we may well have the covers on and off. those showers will probably tend to ease off though during the evening and into the night. more places become dry, still got some wetter weather towards the northeast of scotland. the breeze tends to ease down a little bit, and we'll find temperatures typically again around 12—13 degrees.
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now, its low pressure that's brought all the rain over recent days, in the centre of the low pressure, by the time we get to wednesday, it's close to the northeast of scotland. so there's more cloud rolling in here and some patchy rain around too. elsewhere, there may well be some sunshine, but we're going to find showers breaking out, and those could turn heavy and thunderey come the afternoon, particularly across wales, the midlands, across to lincolnshire as well. temperatures may be a notch higher on friday, still no better than 20—21 celsius. let's end with a glimmer of hope, because the low pressure is trying to move away. —— on wednesday. this is where high pressure is, dry weather, and this is trying to nudge up from the southwest across the uk. so during thursday and friday, the winds won't be as strong, and for more places, it will be dry. some sunshine, although still rather cloudy for scotland and northern ireland. temperatures should be a little bit higher.
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this is bbc news. i'm david eades with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. us troops head for the exit in afghanistan — as the taliban continues to seize more districts, and over 1,000 afghan soldiers flee the country. in england, where coronavirus cases are rising rapidly, the prime minister confirms plans to scrap most remaining restrictions in two weeks. more abductions in nigeria as gunmen kidnapp at least 140 schoolchildren in the north—west of the country. and the british teenager emma raducanu's wimbledon journey ends abruptly as she pulls out injured in the fourth round.


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