Faulks supports reading matters

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Forget the internet, smart phones and 3D televisions - the BBC is declaring 2011 the year of the humble book.

Over the next few months we’re going to see (and hear) a lot of literary-themed programmes spread across the TV and radio channels, ranging from documentaries to drama adaptations.

And the man who’ll be setting the bar for these future series is author Sebastian Faulks, who presents the new four-parter Faulks on Fiction.

As the acclaimed author of novels including Birdsong and Charlotte Gray, you could be forgiven for expecting the presenter to focus on the role of the writer, maybe throwing in a few hints about how scribes deserve to be more famous and better paid.

But instead he’s taking a different tack as tries to get to the heart of the British novel.

Faulks explains: “In recent years, people talking about novels have focused on their authors. I’d like to rectify this.

“To me, the people who matter most in novels are not the authors but their characters; the heroes, lovers, snobs and villains, people whose inner lives we get to know so well that they’re more familiar to us than our own families and friends - so much so that it’s in the power of their experiences that we see our own lives in a new light.” He adds: “These characters live beyond their times and beyond the page, in our imagination, in our memory, and on both the big screen and the small.”

Faulks knows better than most writers how characters can take on a life seemingly independent of their author.

In 2007, it was announced that he had been chosen by the estate of Ian Fleming to write a new James Bond novel. It was a job some writers would have found a bit daunting, but the resulting book, Devil May Care, became a best seller.

Of course, some 007 fans would argue that Bond had a bit of a head start when it came to capturing the public’s imagination, as he’s a hit with the ladies, drives a flash car and gets to dice with death on an almost daily basis. But what about those characters that are not ‘equipped’ with a licence to kill? How do they go about becoming icons?

That’s what Faulks intends to find out, as he divides some of the creations of English literature into four categories; the aforementioned heroes, lovers, snobs and villains.

The first instalment focuses on heroes, and discovers that they don’t have to be suave secret agents to make a big impression.

In fact, they don’t even have to be very heroic. Instead, they are characters that make us root for them, whether it be Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to more unconventional heroes like the immoral Becky Sharp in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and John Self in Martin Amis’s Money. By examining them, he hopes to show why these characters have more to teach us than just what makes a good book.

Faulks says: “The events that befall them shape them as people - but they affect us, too. The lives of these characters help us to understand ourselves. The British novel has made us who we are.”