At home with Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan is one of Australia's most beloved novelists. He is also Australia's most recent recipient of The Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. In this interview, he discusses his latest work, The Living Sea of Waking Dreams.

We recorded this interview remotely and Richard was at his home in Tasmania.

At home with Richard Flanagan


ASTRID: Richard Flanagan is one of Australia's most beloved novelists. He is also our most recent recipient of The Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. In this interview, he discusses his latest work, The Living Sea of Waking Dreams. We recorded this interview remotely and Richard was at his home in Tasmania. You will be able to hear birds and dogs and other sounds in the background. Enjoy.

Welcome to The Garret at Home, Richard Flanagan. I am so excited to speak with you today.

RICHARD: It's lovely to be with you, Astrid.

ASTRID: Richard, I have wanted to interview you for a few years now and I'm going to admit that I was too scared to ask for an interview with you, not because there's anything scary about you, but because I respect you immensely. I respect your novels, of course, but also your short form non-fiction and particularly your work in The Guardian and more recently, The New York Times. So, I am thrilled and slightly nervous. If I stuff this up – and I don't normally say this at the beginning of interviews for The Garret, Richard – but if I stuff this up, that is why.

RICHARD: Oh, you've got nothing to fear, Astrid, and you come with an absolutely stellar reputation both as an interviewer and as human being. Everyone sings your praises and says you're wonderful.

ASTRID: Oh, that is so wonderful to hear, Richard. Congratulations are in order for your most recent novel, The Living Sea of Waking Dreams. It's only been out for a few weeks and your words, the work itself, in this novel you have expressed a feeling that I have had for years now. I'm not a fiction writer. I don't have the words to express it myself. But for those listening to The Garret, can you introduce us to The Living Sea of Waking Dreams?

RICHARD: Oh my God, Astrid, that's the hardest question. In publishing houses, there's a moment that terrifies me when they ask me to come up with ideas for the blurb – which they then rewrite, of course – and I've never got any. I remember seeing a gag in a film where a character's running around with a copy of War and Peace under his arm and someone else says, ‘He's just done a speed reading course’. They say to him, ‘What's the novel about?’, and he says, ‘I'm not sure. I think it's got something to do with Russia’. Every novel's like that.

It's hard to reduce to a grab and I'm always very bad at it, but I guess it's about a middle-aged woman whose mother is dying and who starts noticing, at the same time, that parts of her body have started to vanish: a finger, a knee, then a breast. The more of her that vanishes, what becomes extraordinary to her is that no one notices. What's most remarkable isn't that she's slowly dissolving and vanishing, but that no one sees it, or if they see it, they don't care. The more she seeks to point to herself and what's happening, the more people just point at their phones, to their lives, to the small things. Then she becomes aware that other people themselves are vanishing, they're losing pieces of their faces, and still no one says anything.

Wound up through this is the story also of her mother dying. She has a brother, well, she has two brothers. One of the brothers, like her, is successful, and one isn't. She and the successful brother, because she herself has become a successful professional, somehow take it ill that their mother wants to die and that the medical advice is that there's nothing further that can be done to keep her alive. They resolve to use all their power, their wealth and their influence to keep their mother alive, because it offends them that she might die. That offends some essential vanity about their own highly individual lives. So, that's sort of a rough idea of the setup, as they say.

ASTRID: When I first read the blurb of this novel, Richard, it does mention the vanishing and I thought, ‘Richard can't be serious. How's he going to do that? How will even this fine novelist make that believable that bits of people are actually vanishing?’ And yet you did in a way that made it make perfect sense as I read it. What does that vanishing represent to the story and to what you're trying to get your readers to feel?

RICHARD: The more I've written, Astrid, the less I know about what I write and the more I trust to the story that interests me. There were several things that fed into this book. It started with the invisibility of middle-aged women and the strangeness of these times. I've become very conscious that many beautiful things, wondrous, extraordinary things: animals, birds, fish, even places that I loved, they seem to be on the verge of vanishing and my grandchildren will never know them.

Just near my house, there's the last of the swift parrots, perhaps 500 of them. Where I write on Bruny Island, there are forty spotted pardalotes. There's a few hundred of them left. Both of those species have got perhaps a decade or two left. A few bays round from where I'm talking to you was where the red handfish was found. That was declared officially extinct two months ago, the first fish species on the planet in modern history to be declared extinct.

Everywhere we see the strangest, most terrible things happening. Beaches are vanishing. Rainforests are burning. I guess I suddenly understood we're living in the Autumn of things, and I felt something, I felt this rising scream within me and I couldn't give tongue to it. I couldn't find a way of talking about it. I guess I felt that in this time when there is this terrible existential threat to us, I wanted to try and find a language that would speak of both the grief that I felt about this world vanishing all around me, but also as well as speaking of grief, the language would speak of possibility and of hope.

I'd actually written another novel. I had a draft of that I'd been working on for about a year and a half. At the height of the Tasmanian fires – which happened the year before the dreadful Black Summer that burnt so much of mainland Australia – the Tasmanian fires were like a harbinger of all that was to happen in Australia 12 months later. These fires started in rainforests that had never burnt. They burnt on and on and they couldn't be put out in a few days, in a few weeks. They just kept on burning, spreading, growing larger. At the height of those fires, I, of all things, went to stay with some friends who were, rather bizarrely, lighthouse keepers on this most beautiful island that's very celebrated in Tasmania called Maatsuyker Island. It's off the far southern tip of Tasmania, it's very remote. It's a few acres of beautiful tea tree woodland. It's home to a million or more short-tailed shearwaters known as mutton birds here, and seals. I was 18 hours on a cray fishing boat being violently ill getting there. But once there, well, I was grateful just to be back on land.

I'd gone there to work and also to just be in this most marvellous place that I'd always wanted to visit. I set up in a little weather observation hut overlooking this wild sea, and to the sound of wind shriek and seal bark, I set to work. Almost immediately what poured out wasn't revisions to the novel I'd been working on but what would be the first chapter of an entirely different novel and became the first chapter of The Living Sea of Waking Dreams. It was there, on that very remote island, with that shrieking wind and the noise of waves on the cliffs, that I finally found the tone, I found the voice and I found the story that I wanted to tell.

ASTRID: Thank you, Richard. When I was reading The Living Sea of Waking Dreams, I struggled to find a word or a sentence to describe all of it because you are talking about the end of things, as you just said, the autumn of things. You are talking about the climate crisis, but you are also talking about this very intimate story of a family, of children who are watching their elderly mother come to the end of her life and not letting her go, they are intervening. You have, with the vanishing and the use of everybody's use of social media in this work, you are very much making a comment on where we find ourselves this year, all of the different problems that we find ourself facing.

RICHARD: If I can be honest, I wasn't trying to write as commentary. I wasn't trying to write in judgement. I was simply trying to write a description of how it is to live now from a novelistic viewpoint. I wanted the book to escape judgement of anybody or anything. It seemed to me that we don't know how to die now because we don't know how to live. We live in a strange, sleeping vortex. We live in something half dream, half nightmare. I just wanted to try and speak to that, describe that as best I could.

People say, ‘What do things represent? What are you commenting on? What do you mean?’ I don't pretend to know what something means. As I said earlier, I trust in story. You start with stories and you go where the logic of the story takes you. I think in that mystery of story, if you trust to it enough. If you don't tell the reader what to think, the reader discovers themself and their lives and their struggles and their mysteries within the story. It is at that point that the novel comes alive to the reader in that sacred communion that we call reading.

The more books I've written, the more I've learnt to trust story and the less I've tried to judge my characters or the situations they find them in, or to preach to people, or to tell people what to think. I think Chekhov, he wrote a letter to his brother who was trying to write, and he said, ‘It is for the writer to say what these characters do and think and say, but it is for the reader and God to judge’, and I think that's the point.

ASTRID: You sum things up so well, Richard. I'm looking at my questions thinking, ‘Oh, Richard has somehow tapped into that power of story’. I think instead of the questions that I have got here, can I ask you to read some of your work for those listening?

RICHARD: Yeah, of course. Look, there are no bad questions, Astrid. There are only terrible answers. I have plenty of terrible answers that I've given in the past. I hope not to give them today. But the difficulty when you're interviewed is that when you meet with someone, I think all human beings want to try and find middle ground where you agree with each other. For many years as a writer, when I was interviewed I'd always agree with my interviewers, but I was always lying because I wasn't telling the truth of why I wrote and what I meant when I wrote. Writing is very mysterious, as is reading. I try now to be truer to the strangeness of it.

So, this was a piece you picked from early in the book.

For a long time he had been aware of a growing scream that was within him and outside him, continued Anna’s brother. He tried to contain that scream, it made him stutter, but it kept insisting.The world grew daily hotter and smokier and nightly noisier: more construction noise more insects disappearing, more road noise more fish stocks collapsing, more news noise more frogs and snakes dying out, more brexitrump climatecoal more and more, more and more fucking tourists everywhere, even here in Tasmania even here at the end of the world, well they were queueing at the top of Everest what could you expect?—more jackhammers more reversing trucks and falling and rising cherry pickers b-b-beeping, more tourist coaches clogging small streets more rolling suitcases click-clack-clacking in the street more Winifuckingbagos more airbnfuckingbs more locals sleeping in tents all around the city until even his dreams filled with a nightmare of noise movement growth that seemed to benefit no one and only grew things that left people unsettled unhappy that made people poorer; an ever greater panic expressed as move- ment, a fear of stillness, tourism that was meant to save the island had become the very opposite, tourists even shat in the front yards of locals what the fuck was that saying? They’re pulling poor fucking penguins out of their holes holding them up for selfies to Instagram, who were these people? They came in budget flights they came in cruise liners—every year larger, louder and more childish death stars betopped with ever bigger water slides bungee jumps and video screens pushing out just beneath their haze of bunker fuel smoke forced hap-hap-happy, says Tommy. Far-far-fucking peniten- tiaries f-f-faking fun floating over Hobart looks like Noddytown does everyone want to be seven?

Yes no maybe.

ASTRID: Thank you, Richard. One of the things that strikes me about that paragraph is it feels like it is that scream, that internal scream. It references what is happening to our world but also our interior lives that are sometimes difficult to fathom these days.

Richard, I've been asking writers of both fiction and non-fiction how we can write about the climate crisis. Now, there's obviously no singular answer to that question, nor should there be, but while I was reading The Living Sea of Waking Dreams – which is a work that encompasses far more than the climate crisis – I felt that you had given me a demonstration of how we can write about it in everything that we do, everything that we write and everything that we read.

You are, of course, known for your environmental activism. One of the things that struck me later on in this book, your use of the word solastalgia, which I've come across before in my non-fiction reading, but I felt that you'd written it into Australian literature. It gives me great hope that you have done that. I hope everybody learns that word and it maybe helps them put a name to what they're feeling. It's the existential distress caused by climate change and our changing world.

When you are writing, I know that you said the story found you and you go with the mystery of story, but you know people read your words and you will have an understanding of what you're known for. How do you choose what you end up sharing? Before you hit send and give it to your publisher, do you ever think about what you want other people to be reading?

RICHARD: Well, there's several things in your question. Writing is a strange combination of inspired mystery, of high inspiration and low coming. There is a great crafting to any good novel and that's a series of an almost infinite number of practical choices that are down to the placement or otherwise of a period, the paragraph breaks, the tone, changes of tone. Novels are essentially musical in composition, which means the architecture of them has to be very intricate or they don't work. So, I don't want to pretend that it just rolls out strangely and that you write as some idiot savant. That's not so. But to deny also the possibility of what used to be called fancy, of just making it up, is to deny the power of art itself, which is always about invention and creation. The novel always has to be novel and in a constant state of reinvention. With each book I try and do something completely different. I try and smash apart everything I've done in the last book and seek a new style, a new technique, a new tone to express different truths and to express them as honestly as I can.

How do I choose what I send? It has to be something that pleases me. I mean, you'll meet writers who speak of their markets or their readers, but it seems to be an enormous vanity to pretend to know what even one other person likes. I scarcely know. It's hard enough for me to know what I think is okay. I just try and write the sort of books I'd like to read and that's the only way I can judge it.

You mentioned the word solastalgia. It's an interesting word because, actually, as I understand it, it was invented by an Australian. I should know their name, but I don't. I think it was an Australian philosopher and they invented it to describe the very real sense of loss that people felt around landscapes where they'd grown up or lived that were subject to vast mining operations. That was originally used for that, but it's come to mean that strange sense of loss that's also, to some extent, a loss of personal identity that goes with this loss of the natural world. So, I think it's more than a word. It's a useful way of thinking about what's happening to us and the disorientation so much of us feel in the world at the moment where we're at once losing so much and at the same time pretending that we're only progressing and going to a better place. Whereas, in fact, there is a strange regression and an increasing absence of things and the very things that we need to sustain us.

There's another word used here which was, it's a word that's been around since the 1950s, omnicide, which was originally used to... It arose in the 1950s along with words like holocaust and genocide. But omnicide was used to describe the new reality of nuclear war and the complete obliteration of life. Now it's acquired a larger meaning, which is the death of all things through climate change. There was a wonderful essay written about it by a New South Wales philosopher called Danielle Celermajer and which I think is on the ABC website. She's got a book of her essays coming out next year, which I'm very much looking forward to. So, it's intriguing that some of these words are actually our words, Australian words, and it intrigues me that perhaps, in a sense, we're experiencing these things and thinking about these things sooner, perhaps, than others in the world. So perhaps it's not so surprising that our literature's representing it early on too.

ASTRID: The loss does feel very present in Australia this year, particularly after the bushfires.

RICHARD: I've long believed that I think we tell ourselves so many false stories and one of them is the story of colonisation, which we understand only as a moment of such great violence that it obliterates Indigenous culture and Indigenous thinking, and to the extent that Indigenous culture survives, it just survives. It seems to me to be just another retelling of the terra nullius story and it doesn't give credit to the power of Indigenous culture. I don't think a culture and a civilization that's existed for 60,000 years is so easily denied. I think Australian society, mainstream society, is much more shaped by Indigenous values and Indigenous thinking than it understands, than it recognises.

But I think in consequence, there is a greater and a different sense and a different awareness of our relationship to the land here amongst many Australians, which is not so common amongst Europeans, certainly, and I don't feel that with Americans either. I think it's something that, it is a richness and it is a gift that we will only recognise when we come to fully acknowledge the centrality of Indigenous culture in Australian thought and life. But I think in consequence, we do have a stronger sense of the loss because we had a stronger awareness of what was there in the first place. It's not just simply because we've had such catastrophic natural events, terrible as they've been.

ASTRID: How long did it take you to write this novel? And at what point did you make it clear to your reader that you were referencing such very recent calamitous fires?

RICHARD: Well, I began it, as I said, during the Tasmanian fires, so I began it January 2019. By the autumn of 2019 it was pretty clear to me that it was going to be a calamitous summer for mainland Australia in 2019-2020 because, if you follow the weather at all, Australia was drying out in an extreme and unprecedented way. And so, what I decided was, I sought to sketch the novel fully out before the summer of 2019-2020, and then I would rewrite the entire novel in real time through our last summer. What I would do is, I would let the events of that time influence the story, the tone, the characters, and I would just go wherever the events took me. I thought it would be bad, but I didn't, of course, know that it would be as horrific as it was. But it really gave the novel, I think, a vitality it couldn't have otherwise had. But that was a very conscious decision to have that novel roughly drafted and then to rewrite the whole thing from about November on in real time over that course of that summer. At the end of that summer I revised it, and I guess it took a bit over a year to write.

ASTRID: That is an extraordinary intention, to have the structure of your novel ready to go but then know that you are going to essentially be rewriting it as terrible events unfold. I can only respond as a reader, which is to say, again, you put into words things that I have been feeling that I did feel throughout December and January and February this year and they are in this novel, they are in The Living Sea of Waking Dreams. I do hope that everybody reads it, Richard.

I do have a question about the title. Where did you get it from?

RICHARD: It's by a poet called John Clare, who has always been something of a favourite of mine. He was an English poet of the early 19th century. He was known as the Peasant Poet or as a nature poet. He had his time in the 1820s and 1830s when the great Romantic Poets were about. But he was utterly different. He was born in the Southern Fens, which was the last area of England to not have been enclosed. Enclosure was the phenomenon that occurred over 400 years whereby lands that had been held in common in which all the people in a district or a village held in common, where they could graze their cattle, where they could glean wood, where they could catch wild animals and so on, became private property and became the property of the rich.

It was actually a process of theft. It was done with the full authority of the state, so the practises that had been the very nub of community life became crime – hunting animals became poaching and using common lands became trespass and so on. In fact, quite a few of the early convicts transported to Tasmania were transported under what were known as the Black Acts, which were the acts brought in that created these new crimes of poaching and trespass.

John Clare lived in this last part of last part of England which was still unenclosed and still had much more of a communal life that was deeply rooted in the land. It was a life and a sensibility and a culture which is much closer to what we might think of as an Indigenous understanding of the world. In fact, James Boyce, the Tasmanian historian, who wrote that quite seminal rethinking of colonial history called Van Dieman's Land a few years ago, has recently just written a quite extraordinary history of the Fens in England from the viewpoint of Australian Indigenous history. He uses a lot of the ideas that have grown up in thinking about our Indigenous history to re-examine the history of the Fens.

So John Clare was born into this world and in his adulthood he saw it completely destroyed by enclosure. And because he was just a labourer, he actually sometimes had to take work on some of the labouring works of enclosure. He actually worked on destroying the very world he loved. His best poems, his nature poems, speak very powerfully both about the natural world and about the loss of the natural world. Clare, himself, felt this so strongly, what we might now call a profound solastalgia, that his own identity began to crumble. He finally went mad and was committed to an asylum where he spent the last couple of decades of his life. The epigraph in the novel is actually a John Clare poem too. And the title, The Living Sea of Waking Dreams, is taken from a famous poem he wrote in the asylum called I Am, which is quite a disturbing, strange, beautiful poem.

ASTRID: Richard, I am fast learning that one of the joys of talking to you is adding to my recommended reading list. Thank you.

RICHARD: There's always a reading list grows only ever longer as you grow older, I find, Astrid.

ASTRID: But it's a wonderful thing.

RICHARD: Yeah, it is a wonderful thing. I mean, the more you read, the greater grows the library of unread books, I've discovered. The thing about Clare, too, I felt, was that he really lives in his experience of enclosure and the dreadful sense of loss and the way that so impacted on his very psyche. I think it's something that feels very contemporary to me because there is a new enclosure happening and now it's not just the land, and that dreadful word that's so used today, it's not just the land that's monetized. Now we have these very powerful technologies we've created, which can monetize our very emotions, which seek to monetize our nightmares, our dreams, our hopes, our wishes, even our loves.There is no aspect of us now that isn't being enclosed and turned into some form of private property. I think that we all use this technology, but we also sense that we are losing something in the use of it, and yet we don't understand what that loss is. It's so great and so large and so destabilising. There is also a vanishing that's happening in that process, also. Just as the forests vanished, the common lands vanished and the common waters vanished for Clare, so something of our soul today is vanishing.

ASTRID: I do feel that fiction is one of the ways we can begin to understand what is happening to the world around us and as a reader, I did find a measure of that understanding in your novel. But you are so well-known for your fiction, Richard, but you also write non-fiction, particularly recently a lot of opinion pieces. I'm sitting next to a book of your speeches, Seize the Fire: Three Speeches by Richard Flanagan. It is such a different literary form, an opinion piece or a speech, and it requires different skills. But it's my opinion – and I think that a lot of people would share – that people not only respect your writing they respect what you have to say when you choose to say it. And so, I guess that's a long-winded way of asking you what makes you want to write an opinion piece? What pushes that button for you?

RICHARD: Well, I generally don't like writing them, to be honest, Astrid. I much prefer writing fiction. I only write them when I think no one else is saying something that needs to be said and when I feel they're things that many people are feeling and which isn't being given voice to. Sometimes I have a run of them because it feels like there's a moment and there's several things that need to be said. But it is when I feel that there are points that should be made that matter and haven't been made by others. But I'm much happier when others are making those points.

ASTRID: Earlier this year you wrote a few pieces for The New York Times. For anyone who didn't read them at the time, I would just like to say that your piece published on 3 January, ‘Australia is Committing Climate Suicide’, and then another published on 25 January, ‘How Does a Nation Adapt to Its Own Murder?’ they both took my breath away. Those things did need to be said and I'm glad that you said them on the world stage.

RICHARD: Thank you, Astrid. I mean, it's strange when you look back on it, but I guess, I don't know why, but there was a lot not being said at that moment. Much was said later on, but not much was being said at that moment. We were in the dreadful situation of facing this apocalyptic manmade event and a government who refused to take any responsibility for it. I thought that was a crime and it needed to be named as such.

ASTRID: I'm going to admit that I spent eight years as a consultant and most of those years were actually devoted to climate policy before I became too distressed to stay in that field anymore. When I saw those pieces, Richard, I immediately rang my mentor, who I met in that field and who still works in that field, and we both felt a little bit better seeing you say what needed to be said. So again, thank you.

RICHARD: Oh, well, thank you, that's kind. I mean, I think above all what matters about writing is that it should remind people that they're not alone. If there's no other defence made of writing, I think that alone would justify its existence. I mean, I think the things that really distinguish our time now, it's not actually the technology or even the crisis that we're passing through, it is the terrible solitude that so many of us are being encouraged to live in and the sense of isolation so many of us feel, and the way in which not only have we allowed ourselves to become disempowered, but we choose to disempower ourselves by being alone. I think writing's one way in which we find each other and we find that many of us share so much. I've always taken great comfort from that in writing both non-fiction and fiction.

One of your earlier questions, you were asking something about novels. I mean, the point of novels is that, no, it isn't to provide answers, it is to ask the correct questions. Novels should be like, as Kafka said, ‘The axe that smashes the frozen sea within’. They should make you see the world again, strangely, for what it is and not for what the illusions are that we're fed and which too often shroud the truth. And so the novel, if it's done its job properly, has no answers to the mystery of who and what we are, but they ask the questions.

ASTRID: Richard, you have now published eight novels. When you look back at those, do you see a common question throughout?

RICHARD: No, I don't know. I think that's a question for a reader, really, rather than me.

ASTRID: It was an entirely leading question, but I just thought I would throw it in there.

RICHARD: Oh, it was a terrific question, it was. I mean, I think it was Heinrich Boll said, ‘Every writer writes all their novels in order to write one word’, which sort of raises the same sort of question, which word is it that you're seeking to write? I'm not sure with me. Perhaps it's love. Perhaps it's hope. I do know with this novel, I really wanted it to be written with kindness and gentleness. I wanted it to ultimately express an idea of hope. I wanted it to be about the immense beauty that I think still exists in the world because I think, although the idea of beauty is very unfashionable, we all know it when we see it. In the truth of that beauty, I find hope. I wanted to try and convey something of that sense of beauty in the book, in the belief that people might find hope in that. That opening chapter you had me read, it's typically of one aspect of the novel, but it's not typical of the novel of the whole, which has a different tone to it again.

ASTRID: That is true. At the end – no spoilers – we see an idea of hope for the natural world and we see hope for the human characters who go on and what may come next.

RICHARD: I think it's very important and I think it's important for an aesthetic reason. It's not out of sentimentality or to create illusions. It's not for political reasons. But it is for an aesthetic reason and a psychological reason. The reality of us as human beings is, faced with the worst, when our situation becomes dreadful, people always manifest hope. That's what human beings do. When they're stripped of all aspects of their humanity, they still have hope.

A few years ago, I went with my friend, Ben Quilty, and we followed the huge exodus, those refugees out of Syria, those six million people who fled. We got up into the refugee camps in Lebanon. Then we followed them, that river, into the Greek Islands, Lesbos and so on, and then up into the Balkans, up through Serbia and Croatia into Slovenia. I met with a whole lot of these refugees. These were people who'd lived under the worst of ISIS, the horror of the Assad regime, who'd been betrayed by all sorts of people in their flights, who'd lost loved ones, who'd seen the very worst of humanity, who had nothing left, and they had hope.

I met a woman in a tent in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon near the Syrian border. She'd been a dressmaker from Aleppo. And because she was a dressmaker she worked with mannequins. Because mannequins are naked, she could be killed by ISIS because she was dealing with a naked form and that represented a form of religious heterodoxy. So, she had to flee. She was heavily pregnant and she gave birth in this little tent in this refugee camp, which was just, they weren't even tents, they were sort of rough shelters made of plastic hessian and bits of billboard bunting. She named that baby, it's the Syrian word that means first light. The baby was about three months old when I met her, and she had hope. That's what people do, no matter how bad their situation is, they search for hope.

And so, I think if you're making art about dark things and you only show darkness, people know that it's untrue to what we are as human beings. If you're seeking to make work that ultimately is true to what we are as humans, you have to have hope or people smell a rat and they know that somehow what you've written is false. Jokes serve the same purpose. Music serves the same purpose. Ultimately, they are hopeful acts.

ASTRID: Richard, you have given me, and I think you'll give all of your readers, a look to the future and realistic hope for the future. Thank you so much for your writings. They mean so much, I think, to so many people including myself.

RICHARD: Well, thank you, Astrid.