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Sex, spies and shrinks in a Viennese whirl

English author William Boyd's latest novel Waiting for Sunrise comes on like a cross between the recent Hollywood films A Dangerous Method and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Now 60, Boyd is no stranger to the art of filmmaking, having adapted his own books for film and television as well as having worked on television series and he knows how to spin a yarn.

"I think, fundamentally, story and narrative -- what is going to happen next -- is what seduces you, so things have to happen in my novels. I can't write 300 pages about subtle psychological shifts of nuance; there has to be a motor.

"Around that motor I can construct the most elaborate automobile I want to, but I seem to need that dynamo to power the novel. The more complicated the plot, the more pleasure I get -- and so do readers."

Waiting for Sunrise tells the story of Lysander Rief, a young English actor who goes to Vienna to see a psychiatrist in order to sort out a nagging sexual problem before he settles down to get married.

And though he finds a cure in Vienna, it is not quite the talking cure; rather a passionate love affair with a young artist that leads to him getting caught up in wartime espionage.

Boyd says he was always fascinated by Vienna at the turn of the 20th century. "It's a novelist's dream. Beneath its stiff manners and formality was the modern world. It was a modern renaissance and everything changed."

During this period, Vienna was at the cutting edge of almost everything. "It was a hub for everything: painting, music, architecture, philosophy, literature, journalism, politics...

"Nazi anti-Semitism was being fermented in Vienna by a fascistic mayor; Hitler was there as a vagrant; Stalin spent six weeks there; Trotsky lived there for seven years -- it's quite amazing that all this was taking place in this small, bourgeois city. There was this ferment of modernism and that's what makes it unique."

What better place in which to drop your character suffering from anorgasmia? "I wanted something different from the usual neurosis. I knew somebody when I was at school who suffered from it and, of course, we mocked him mercilessly for it but it stayed in my mind."

This is not the first time Boyd has introduced the element of espionage to his novels. His character in Any Human Heart also briefly became a spy.

"A lot of so-called literary novelists tackle the spy genre and they wouldn't necessarily tackle other genre fiction, but it's just so rich. You're dealing with lying, betrayal and deception."

Boyd didn't always want to be a novelist. He had originally harboured dreams of being an artist, but his father's 'parental hand' said 'no way'. So he went to Oxford, where Alan Hollinghurst and Andrew Motion were contemporaries, and he started writing.

His talent and skill as an artist came in handy later on in life when he wrote a hoax biography of an artist he invented, called Nat Tate. Boyd even went so far as to sell a painting by the mythical Nat Tate (it fetched a respectable £7,250).

Boyd was determined to lead a creative life, one way or another. "There was definitely something in me that wanted to be an artist of some kind and not be a doctor or a lawyer or have a proper job," he laughs.

When his father refused to allow him to go to art school, he thought he might be a novelist instead.

"My father very sadly died when he was 58 and died unconvinced that I would make a decent go of it -- I had published two stories at that point. There was no overnight success but it was a long process."

Surely he has nothing to worry about now, his success being firmly established? Not so. "The thing that keeps me awake at night now is my 11th novel and thinking how many more have I got in me?"

Waiting for Sunrise is published by Bloomsbury

Indo Review