Louis de Bernières on Imagining Alexandria

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin author on his latest novel

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On the back of his latest release, a collection of verse, the British author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières, reveals what we can expect from him next.

Despite his clearly Gallic origins, Louis de Bernières is as British as they come. De Bernières takes his name from a French father, but grew up in Surrey, England. The 58-year-old has long been highly regarded for his 1994 Greek wartime epic Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, but it is 2004’s Birds Without Wings, a powerful novel dealing with the end of the Ottoman Empire, of which he says he is most proud and hopes to be remembered for. In fact, the author’s jovial disposition and easygoing manner belies the content of his books – many of which use a backdrop of war and conflict to focus on the plight of its protagonists.

The author has just released his poetry collection, Imagining Alexandria, which consists of odes inspired by his favourite poet, Constantine Kavafis. He wrote several of the poems the last time he was in Hong Kong in 2010. ‘I’d been reading him all the way over on the plane, and when I got here I was in such an altered state of mind that I immediately sat down and wrote about five, in his manner,’ says the author. ‘To write poetry, I need to be in an altered state of mind. I have to be upset or excited, or jet-lagged!’

De Bernières reveals that he has also just completed his latest novel. ‘It’s set almost entirely in Britain. Some of it is in France because it’s in the First World War and the last three chapters are set in Sri Lanka. The provisional title is The Dust That Falls From Dreams, a line from a song by a friend of mine. The next volume, if I write it, will be set just after the Second World War, and the last one will be from then until 1980. I’ve been thinking about it for 20 years!’

The author also reveals his own willingness to push boundaries when we enquire whether he’d ever write under a pseudonym. ‘There are lots of things I haven’t tried,’ he says. ‘It might be fun to write something really, really super vile, like, you know, American Psycho or Trainspotting or Last Exit to Brooklyn – something really horrible. I would do that under a pseudonym, but mainly for a laugh.’
Imagining Alexandria, Dhs55, is available at www.amazon.co.uk.

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