Patrick O’Connor

Interview: Francis Wyndham

Any conversation with Francis Wyndham is a bit like embarking on a magical mystery tour. One has no idea where it might lead, the subject matter changing imperceptibly from literature and theatre to music and cinema, the politics of art and fashion, the importance of the detail, the right word, the exact date. In his introduction to Wyndham’s collected fiction (The Other Garden and Collected Stories, published by Picador on 3 September), Alan Hollinghurst describes the ‘peculiarly paradoxical sensibility’ that leads to ‘the mercurial mood-swings which reveal experience as at one moment wretched and the next irresistibly funny’. One of the most admired editors, and a journalist accustomed to wide-ranging and often unexpected assignments, Francis Wyndham has an intense love of good writing that has driven everything that he has done. He was instrumental in bringing Jean Rhys back from decades of neglect when he encouraged her to write what became Wide Sargasso Sea. In his years at The Sunday Times, he discovered the then-unknown Bruce Chatwin. In writing about these two very different personalities, Wyndham reveals himself in a delightfully telling way. Despite the often melancholy nature of her fiction, he remembers Jean Rhys as someone with whom one could enjoy ‘those sacred moments of frivolity (an old tune, a new scent, a perfect cocktail, a wonderful joke) which for her nearly made life worth living’. In his introduction to Chatwin’s Photographs and Notebooks, Wyndham describes ‘his boundless receptivity to ideas … he would discover the things that interested you and immediately respond to them; he would not only understand but would deepen those interests’. Both these accounts of his late friends seem to me to be perfect descriptions of Francis Wyndham himself. 

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