EDMUND DU WAAL, author of The Hare With Amber Eyes and The Pot Book, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |December 11, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks


author of The Hare With Amber Eyes and The Pot Book

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Nottingham, Lincoln and Canterbury. My father was a clergyman and we moved from university to cathedral towns as I was growing up.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Always a potter, from the age of five.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That I’d be a poet as well as a potter.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

1. My first pot, aged five.

2. Going to Japan aged seventeen.

3. Inheriting the Netsuke collection from my great uncle.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book, aren’t they obsolete?

Books are utterly unlike any other media. They have tactility and I am partisan about the touch of objects in the world. Books are objects! The Pot Book is an attempt at making concrete a collection of images of pots.

6. Please tell us about your latest book… THE POT BOOK

This book has been five years in the planning. It’s completely personal and not a committee view of what great pots should be. I hope it’s quixotic, beautiful and stimulating. It should certainly be provocative.

(BBGuru: Here’s the blurb…

The history of ceramic art is ingrained in the history of mankind. Clay is one of the very first materials ‘invented’ by man. An essential part of our lives it has been moulded, thrown, glazed, decorated and fired for over 30,000 years in order to preserve and transport food and water. In more recent times clay has been used not just by artisans and potters, but also by artists, designers and architects.

The Pot Book is the first publication to document the extraordinary range and variety of ceramic vessels of all periods, in a comprehensive and accessible A to Z format. From a delicate bowl made by an unnamed artisan in China in the third millennium BC, or a jug made in eighteenth-century Dresden, to a plate made by Picasso in 1952, a ‘spade form’ made by Hans Coper or the vases of Grayson Perry today, it’s all in included in this beautifully illustrated collection. Each entry is sequenced in alphabetical order by the name of the artist/potter, the school, or style, creating a grand tour through the very finest examples of the art form.

  • The most comprehensive and accessible A to Z overview of ceramics from all periods in print
  • Charts the myriad purposes of ceramics from functionality to display to ritual
  • Authoratitive texts give a clear insight into the techniques involved in both creation and decoration
  • Including the mass-produced as well as the bespoke, The Pot Book explores the prominence of ceramics in our everyday lives and those of our predecessors
  • Beautifully illustrated, with 300 colour photographs showing pots and their usage)

(BBGuru: So, in short, it’s not about Pot at all…)

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

Slow you down.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Hans Coper. He was a German Jewish émigré who came to England as an engineer and became the most powerful sculptor with it clay in the twentieth century. A man of complete integrity.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To get through to 6pm and my first glass of wine!

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Write. Write more. Write again.

Edmund, thank you for playing.

Edmund de Waal is also the author of this year’s surprise hit THE HARE AMBER EYES: A Hidden Inheritance

The history of a family through 264 objects – set against a turbulent century – from an acclaimed writer and potter

264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox: potter Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in the Tokyo apartment of his great uncle Iggie. Later, when Edmund inherited the ‘netsuke’, they unlocked a story far larger than he could ever have imagined…The Ephrussis came from Odessa, and at one time were the largest grain exporters in the world; in the 1870s, Charles Ephrussi was part of a wealthy new generation settling in Paris. Marcel Proust was briefly his secretary and used Charles as the model for the aesthete Swann in Remembrance of Things Past.

Charles’ passion was collecting; the netsuke, bought when Japanese objects were all the rage in the salons, were sent as a wedding present to his banker cousin in Vienna. Later, three children – including a young Ignace – would play with the netsuke as history reverberated around them. The Anschluss and Second World War swept the Ephrussis to the brink of oblivion.

Almost all that remained of their vast empire was the netsuke collection, smuggled out of the huge Viennese palace (then occupied by Hitler’s theorist on the ‘Jewish Question’), one piece at a time, in the pocket of a loyal maid – and hidden in a straw mattress. In this stunningly original memoir, Edmund de Waal travels the world to stand in the great buildings his forebears once inhabited. He traces the network of a remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century.

And, in prose as elegant and precise as the netsuke themselves, he tells the story of a unique collection which passed from hand to hand – and which, in a twist of fate, found its way home to Japan.

Click here to buy THE HARE AMBER EYES

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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  • December 11, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    I loved this book, it was historical, engaging, unassuming and brilliant. What a lovely surprise. And what a lucky man having so many talents. I would love to hear what Edmund’s top 5 books of all time are…because I would definitely read them. Caroline, Auckland, New Zealand.

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