Known for dark portrayals of humankind, the acclaimed British novelist takes on a sexually frustrated marriage in his newest work, On Chesil Beach. Ian McEwan will now take your questions
How do you select a topic for a novel? Edward Turner ST. CATHARINES, ONT.
My novels usually start in a very chaotic way. It never feels so clear as selecting a topic. I write my way into them. Though I am keen to make my new novel not anything like my last, so often I am in flight from the last thing I did.
You write about very dark subjects. Why is that? Mahtot Teka, ADDIS ABABA
Look at the front page of today's newspaper. We are a troubled lot, and literature is bound to reflect this. Any examination of the human state will take you into some dark places.
I find your more recent work superior to your earlier, perhaps edgier writing. Do you ever reread your writing from years ago and think you would have approached it differently? David Parr, PORTLAND, MAINE
I have dipped into it from time to time, and I don't feel any great urge to change anything. I agree that they were certainly darker, but I don't think they were less complex. I looked at The Innocent about six months ago, and I really enjoyed it.
On Chesil Beach had me sympathizing with Edward and Florence equally, but my wife sided with Florence. Did you want the reader to side with one or the other? Nathaniel Winn LITTLE ELM, TEXAS
Absolutely not. The narrative really tries to be compassionate toward them both and ascribe no blame to either.
How much research goes into creating a character like the neurosurgeon in Saturday? Jarret Bryan, BROOKLYN, N.Y.
That book required a fair bit of research. I met a neurosurgeon who took me under his wing for two years. Eventually I started attending operations and procedures with him. I was even once mistaken for a neurosurgeon during an operation.
The character in Saturday struggles with his feelings about the invasion of Iraq. How would it be different if you wrote it today, two years later? Dan Montgomery MCLEAN, VA.
I think [the protagonist] is bound to wish that it had never happened. The occupation has been a disaster from the very first day, and I speak as one who really wanted it once it had started--really wanted it to succeed. So I guess it would be a darker novel, because I don't see much virtue in staying or in running.
When you are writing a book, do you expect it to influence your readers in a certain way? Ju Huang, STAMFORD, CONN.
Readers are so different from one another. They are very hard to corral into one place with your writing. I think reading, much like writing, is a sort of journey. I let them take what they will.
How do you feel about your brief detainment by U.S. immigration officers a few years ago and the current immigration crisis? Salwa Geraisy, SAN DIEGO
My own thing [a 24-hour-plus detention] was a silly bureaucratic matter; I couldn't compare my case to [that of] migrants coming from the south. Society is more vibrant and creative if its citizens are culled from as many races as possible. But I think we must not tie ourselves down to accusing anyone who raises the matter of numbers as being a racist.
What's your take on there being fewer literary reviews in newspapers and magazines? Genevieve Powers, BROOKLINE, MASS.
The problem is really a small part of a larger one, which is the decline of newspapers. Publishers seem to be very keyed up to embrace the Internet, but I don't have much time for the kind of site where readers do all the reviewing. Reviewing takes expertise, wisdom and judgment. I am not much fond of the notion that anyone's view is as good as anyone else's.
You are described as a novelist who has a profound insight into the human condition. What is your prognosis? Ardoth Rutherford HUNTINGTON, W.VA.
[Laughs.] I guess the sum of all my novels would be the answer to that question. It is pretty hard to do the human condition in a couple of lines, but I think there is room for optimism.
To submit questions for upcoming 10 Q subjects, go to time.com/10questions