About The Author
Justin Cartwright was born in South Africa and grew up in Johannesburg before moving to London, where he now lives. His father was the editor of the Rand Daily Mail, and a non-fiction writer. Before turning to fiction, Justin worked as a copywriter in an ad agency, where his success writing pet food commercials led to work directing commercials. He also wrote documentaries for tv and two thrillers. In 1984 he started writing the book that was to become his first novel, Interior, which was published to great acclaim in 1988. He continued writing fiction alongside managing election broadcasts for the Liberal Party and the then SDP Liberal Alliance. In Every Face I Meet was shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and Whitbread Novel Award in 1995 and won a Commonwealth Writers Prize. Leading the Cheers won the Whitbread Novel Award in 1998, while White Lightning was shortlisted for the same award in 2002.
His latest novel, Lion Heart, follows Richard Cathar's quest to discover the fate of Christianity's most sacred relic, and the truth about his enigmatic father.
Below, Justin introduces four of the novels he wishes he'd written, followed by a selection from among those he's most admired recently.
You can also read our exclusive interview with Justin about his previous novel, Other People's Money, set at the time of the banking crisis.
At the bottom of the page you'll find a list of titles by Justin Cartwright currently in print in the UK. You may find other editions in our 'New and Used' section by typing the author's name into the Search field at the top of this page and selecting the 'Author Exact' filter to the far right of the Search field.
Questions & Answers
Exclusively for Foyles we interviewed Justin about his novel, Other People's Money, set in England at the time of the banking crisis. Below that, Justin introduces an earlier novel, To Heaven by Water.
What was it about the financial crisis that particularly fired your imagination?
I wanted to write a state-of-the-nation novel, and it seems to me that in times of crisis all the good and bad aspects of a country are more starkly revealed. At the same time the bankers and other financial people seem to me to have been almost as bemused as the rest of us by what happened, which is worrying.
Several strong characters inhabit the foreground, the story alternating between their points of view. Did it ever belong to any one of them for you, or were they always going to share the stage?
No, I always intended to establish wholly separate worlds, and try to inhabit them fully. There is obviously a juxtaposition of art and money in the book, so it was important to me to suggest that art is considered something of a luxury or a prop by the financial ruling classes and that genuine art springs from a kind of obdurate persistence. And these are two of the themes that the characters embody.
Was it important that the banking family at the heart of the novel was not just hugely wealthy but also part of the English aristocracy?
The family is not strictly speaking aristocracy, although certainly upper middle class. It has always been a characteristic of British society that families adopt aristocratic habits as they rise up the scale. So with the Tubal family, although I think they have retained a certain sensitivity.
There is a refrain in your novel about there being different ways of telling a story. Do you think the banking crisis was misrepresented or that some individual or groups came off badly in the telling?
What I really think is that our lives are often shaped by apparently small changes or events - and big ones of course - and that all of our lives (certainly mine) could have turned out very differently. The novel is a unique form of the arts, and the lives and hopes and failures of the characters - who may have become almost real to the reader - are decided and shaped arbitrarily by the writer.
All the people in power in the novel are corrupt, with little or no chance for the 'ordinary man'. Is this how you see Britain today?
No, not really. Contrary to popular belief, British society has always contained an ethical strand, both in public life and in the conduct of business. At the same time, it is certainly true that upper class institutions like Lloyds and some banks were riddled, not so much with blatant corruption, as nest-feathering at the expense of outsiders. And it seems generally true that people with power and money have a comparatively easy passage through life. So seeing the rich lose money is always gratifying for the reader in a novel.
The objects of desire here are, in variable proportions, Money, Art /the Artistic life and a sense of community/belonging. Why is it so hard to achieve all three?
In general I would say that the area of shared values has shrunk. Someone looking down from the top of society might think this was a bad thing, that everything they have held dear is now subject to question by the lower orders - standards of behaviour, financial rules, even sport, but most particularly culture. You see the dear old BBC trying to move with the times, and when it isn't pathetic, it's hopeless. But you only have to think back - if you are old enough to remember - Dixon of Dock Green, God Save the Queen in every cinema, three television channels, and much more. Britain has changed radically, and mostly for the good. And what has happened is that we have become a romantic society, where feeling has triumphed over rationality.
In To Heaven by Water David Cross wasn't a grieving widower and Fleur is not a grieving widow here. Friendship, or even the bond between servant and master, seems to offer the possibility of a much more genuine relationship. Is that to do with clarity of expectations or something else?
Grief doesn't seem to have had an effect on Fleur, but I think that is because she has come to see what a self-centred old bastard her late husband was. There is a huge difference between friendship and love, and for many people friendship is more reliable and pain-free.
You seem to have a lot of fun writing the character of small time playwright and actor manager, Artair MacCleod. He is often a figure of fun or even derision but you also seem to have quite a bit of affection for him. Do his dedication to his 'art' and his sheer dogged determination redeem him?
Absolutely. I love Artair MacCleod. And I had a huge amount of fun writing him. He is obviously comic but as you suggest in the question, he embodies a love of art and its transformative powers that - I like to think - I share.
The figure of the traveller who steps outside and away from everyday life and even 'civilisation' seems quite a potent one for you. Is it something you've been tempted to do yourself?
I think it is a conceit of writers like me who are English in most ways but were not brought up here, or have a distance from the mainstream, to believe that we can look more coldly at society. You find this among the Jewish America writers who I have loved, like Saul Bellow, and amongst people who have come to live here like W.G. Sebald, whose work I revere and Conrad, who had a big influence on my first novel, Interior.
Can you tell us anything about what you are working on next?
I am working on a film script of one of my books and I am making a documentary about the South African playwright, Athol Fugard to celebrate his 80th birthday. I will start another novel in about October.
When I was younger I wasn't much interested in family as a concept. Family seemed simply to be a fact of life, for better or for worse, but as my children grew up - I have two sons - I found myself fascinated by the family, both as a benevolent institution and as a sort of Mafia, from which you can't really escape. And it struck me that family members have unreal expectations of the family; usually they believe that the family owes them something, although it is never quite clear what the limits of this generosity and understanding are and whether any reciprocity is required. But what I did find, and it surprised me, was that love for your children is something utterly different and boundless.
So in a way I saw To Heaven by Water as a companion piece to The Promise of Happiness, which dealt with a family imploding because of a crime. In To Heaven by Water I decided to try to imagine what would happen to a family with two grown up children when the mother, who is the centre of the family, dies suddenly. In the course of the novel - the plan was - the reader should get a pretty good idea of what she was like. David Cross, the husband, has a guilty secret: with his wife's death he feels in some ways liberated. But in the course of the novel he discovers, and we discover, his true feelings for his wife.
When you write a family novel - or any novel for that matter - I think you have to be honest, even ruthless. It is no good hiding behind the conventional. The premise underlying this book is that we all believe we could have lived another life, perhaps a more fulfilling or spiritual life, and this is one of the themes of the book. All three surviving members of the Cross family have to adjust to their new circumstances, and achieve a resolution in their own way. As the novel progresses, they make up their own minds about family, and cope with some awful shocks on the way. Yet I like to think that it is funny and very humane.