author of Mrs. Hemingway
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I grew up in York in the north of England. When I was eight my parents announced we were moving to Hong Kong. We’d never been to the continent of Asia, nevertheless China, and we’d certainly never been to Hong Kong. My dad worked for the international schools, and my sister and I had most of our schooling out there. Now she’s in Sydney, I’m in London and my parents are in Italy. We’re spread out like butter on the toast of the globe.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I told people I wanted to be “a bloodsucking lawyer”. It was a brattish answer that I stole from The Addams Family movie (my favourite, at that age; for a year I watched it every afternoon over a bowl of noodles, and can still remember most of the lines.) At eighteen I was getting vibes that I wanted to be a writer. I’m thirty now, and I write and teach Creative Writing at Goldsmiths University in London, which is a pretty good combination.
That writing would build me a big house and swimming pool. The economics of my dreams have shrunk a little.
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Reading The Old Man and the Sea made me interested in Hemingway and made me want to find out everything about him – that powerful sense of loss in all of its pages made me want to write about a troubled soul and his relationships with women. My first novel, The Godless Boys, emerged after I set about writing a short-story based on what I saw in Lucian Freud’s painting The Village Boys. If I could produce something tonally close to the cascading elegy that is Anthony and the Jonson’s ‘Hope There’s Someone’ – I’d be very happy.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Mrs. Hemingway is historical fiction, set between 1921-61 in France and America. It tells the story of Hemingway’s four marriages from the perspective of each wife (and former mistress) – Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn and Mary Welsh.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
It’s definitely written for people who’ve never read any Hemingway before, so I hope people take away a portrait of him, as well as a portrait of his four incredible wives. And maybe they’ll go away and read some of Martha Gellhorn’s war reportage – or maybe some fiction of Hemingway’s.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I’ll choose a living writer here. I really love Marilynne Robinson’s work. I think she is a very robust, very beautiful writer. Gilead is one of my favourite novels.
I set myself achievable rather than ambitious goals. My current goal is to write a first draft of my third novel.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Not to worry too much about early drafts. They’re exploratory and first stabs in the dark. I must admit this is advice I find very difficult to accept myself. I’d like things to be perfect right from the get-go. Maybe I’m quite like Wednesday Addams in this as well!
Naomi, thank you for playing.