The first half of the presentation consisted of him telling a couple of quick stories, and then reading the first chapter of his not-yet-published novel. He told us that he always starts by writing the last sentence of the novel, and starts each chapter by writing the last sentence of it. He needs to know what target he's trying to hit before he starts out. Similarly, he started the reading by giving us the last sentence of the chapter, and then starting from the beginning.
The book promises to be wonderful.
He followed the reading with a question and answer period, wherein he talked about the way he writes, the way he researches, and all sorts of interesting tidbits. He doesn't own a computer, and writes all of his novels in longhand, then has them typed by an assistant. He does a great deal of research before he begins a novel, and knows exactly where the story is going and how it all turns out before he writes a single word. In this way, he can focus on the composition of each sentence rather than trying to figure out what happens next.
He loves JK Rowling, if nothing else because she's managed to get a generation of kids interested in reading.
The most interesting bit was when someone asked him, "After the publication of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway had a lot of friends angry with him because they recognized themselves and weren't happy with the way they were described. Has that ever happened to you?" He said quite a few not-very-flattering things about Hemingway: Hemingway didn't have a very good imagination. Hemingway was a journalist, and he wrote like one rather than writing like a novelist. If we applaud him, it's because he had a very simple style, but that's not all that interesting-- it's like an adult pretending to be simple.
There was lots of interesting talk about his characters, a wonderful story about prostitutes in Amsterdam and a tiny way in which he may have affected the way they do things (more later if anyone is interested), the difference between writing screenplays and novels, and a few other random anecdotes.
A friend of mine went with me, and before the program started we were outside the auditorium browsing the books for sale. "Which ones have you read?"
"That one, that one, that one, that one, that one..." The only ones I hadn't read were a children's book and some memoirs.