British short story writer and essayist Simon Van Booy talked Athens, New York, and the subconscious Tuesday during a reading of his inaugural novel at the .
Everything Beautiful Began After tells the story of a defining summer romance in Athens during the 1990s. Van Booy says the city is one of the novel's characters, similar to New York's role in Woody Allen's earlier films.
The newly-minted novelist lived in Athens before it began preparing for the 2004 Summer Olympics, when Van Booy says it was a much different city.
Van Booy then moved to a farm in England before moving to New York, where he resides today. The author said he is often asked why he decided to settle in New York.
"It's embarrassing to say there was no great revelation. I just saw a Woody Allen film," Van Booy said. "They just sit around talking about art and pontificating and they date people into their fifties … so I said, I'm moving there!"
The author read the prologue and first chapter of his novel before taking questions from audience members.
"99 percent of my work is done by my subconscious mind … I can barely do anything as a conscious man," Van Booy told an audience member who asked about his writing process. "I can manage to drive a car badly, occasionally make a cup of tea, warm up corn dogs, but I really feel like when I sit down to write I'm channeling a different part of myself."
Van Booy also said he has learned to distance himself from distractions while writing fiction, including the internet and his telephone.
"I could never write in a café. It has to be in a tomb," he said.
Because his background is in short stories, Van Booy said it was difficult to stay inspired through the process of writing his first novel, which spans 400 pages.
"Writing a short story is like having a holiday romance — you're there in the sun with cocktails, a buffet, Jimmy Buffet … but with a novel, they come home with you," Van Booy quipped.
Van Booy also shared illustrations from the novel, drawn by a 6-year-old artist — his daughter. The proud father invoked Picasso's claim that he spent his whole life trying to draw as he did when he was a child.
The named James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Anne Michaels, and Janet Frame as literary influences. He said he also looks to musicians, painters, and non-fiction writers for inspiration.
Van Booy's appearance was part of its Adult Summer Reading 2011 program.