Byatt In L.A.

REVIEW by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- A.S. Byatt, who recently published the final book of her four-part epic on Frederica Potter and her family, A WHISTLING WOMAN, made an appearance recently at a Writers Bloc presentation at the Skirball Cultural Center, where she was interviewed by David Ulin, book editor of theLA Weekly. Byatt, who is 68, grey-haired, plain-spoken and quintessentially British, had worked for 25 years on the "Frederica Quartet," which follows the redchaired heroine's fortunes through British life and sensibilities in the 50s and 60s. Byatt's other books include Posession and Angels and Insects, and she has a new short story collection coming out later this year which deals with the medical world.

Here are some of the topics Byatt discussed at the Skirball:

PROUST. He served as her model for the Quartet. She became fascinated with the way he dramatized "the inner and outer life of his characters."

BRITAIN. Since she had lived through the history of post-war Britain, she used it to shape the quartet. "Elizabeth's coronation in 1952 give me a starting point, a way to look at old and new England."

REALISM. She considered herself a realistic writer when she began writing fiction, but "wanted to escape realism in the quartet. The middle two books--(Still Life and Babel Tower)-- are somewhat experimental."

OTHER EXPERIMENTAL FICTION. "I was annoyed by the new French writing, except for Robbes Grillet. I have never been able to finish Finnegan's Wake."

TRAGEDY. She is no stranger to it, as her son died in a car accident (she has three other children, all girls). "His death upset me deeply. I stopped writing for two years."

WRITERS SHE ADMIRES. Malcolm Bradbury, Lawrence Norfolk, Wallace Stevens, George Eliot, Shakespeare, Willa Cather, Toni Morrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Albert Camus ("for his sentence structures"), Samuel Coleridge.

Edith Wharton? "She's not Henry James...I write for Henry James."

WRITERS SHE DISLIKES:"The Brontes have died on me."

SCIENCE. "Many more people read about it today." She started studying it on her own and was able to work her findings into her fiction. Now scientists invite her to talk, but she feels that, in the end, she knows "very little" about the subject.

TELEVISION: "It's a dangerous medium. It's always there, what we think about we get from tv. It's also strange and beautiful, though, and it stopped the war in Vietnam."

Coming attractions at Writers Bloc: March 4, Arianna Huffington (at the Skirball); March 21, Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan (Skirball); March 24, Philip Taubman, author of Secret Empire (Skirball); April 4, Don DeLillo at the Writers Guild Theatre. Call (310) 335-0917 for tickets and information.