The question at the heart of this blog – and my life as a writer, editor and reader who cares about authors – is: how do you make a writing life work? (A phrase I’ve borrowed from Pat Barker.)
Recently, I’ve been read interviews with Jessie Burton, author of the bestselling The Miniaturist and Emma Cline, author of The Girls, both admitting to breakdowns at the pressure of sudden, enormous success – in Cline’s case it happened before her book was finished, but after she’d accepted a hefty advance.
I know – many of us know – it isn’t like that for most writers. So what is it like? I decided to approach a series of established writers, with a considerable body of published work, sometimes across different genres, sometimes for different audiences. I wanted a sketch of their careers to emerge by asking about specific books because that’s how most writers’ careers develop – book by book.
What is most important to them – sales, reviews, awards, readers? Which of their books do they value most creatively? Are careers planned with conscious decisions or do surprises – highlights and disappointments – happen along the way?
It’s also a good chance for us to be reminded of books we might have loved but forgotten, or to discover – and fill – gaps in our reading. It will be a rolling feature, with a post hopefully once a week over the next few months.
We’re starting with my good friend Adèle Geras, author of over 90 books for readers of all ages. Her most recent titles are novels for adults, Love, Or Nearest Offer and Cover Your Eyes. Adèle began by writing short chapter books for younger readers and quickly moved on to full-length novels for children and teens, and then adults. She is noted for her retellings and is also a poet.
Here are Adèle’s responses and my reflections afterwards. Enjoy!
What was the first book you wrote?
It was called Tea at Mrs Manderby’s, published in 1976. A short, illustrated book for children of about six.
For which book would you like to be remembered?
That’s hard … maybe I could nominate my classical books: Troy, Ithaka, and Dido.
Is there a book you abandoned partway through?
No, if I start then I’ll finish …
Is there a book you know you’ll never write?
Pretty sure I’ll never write a fantasy novel in the traditional sense. Not a crime novel either though I love reading those. Just not good enough at plotting.
Which book do you believe should have fared better?
Happy Ever After: a trilogy of novels, set in a girls’ boarding school and each novel a reimagining of a fairy tale. The Tower Room (Rapunzel), Watching the Roses (Sleeping Beauty), and Pictures of the Night (Snow White).
Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions to a particular book?
To be honest I never have!
What book do you wish you’d written?
Have you got all day? I share your devotion to Anne Tyler and Ruth Rendell but if I had only one then it has to be Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
What are you writing now?
It is shrouded in the utmost mystery! Just gathering it together now, ready to start writing soon, but all I can say at this stage is: it’s an adult novel, set in the past … sorry to be so uncharacteristically enigmatic!
I’m intrigued by Adèle’s lack of surprise at readers’ reactions – is that because she so carefully thinks about her audience while she’s writing? I loved Happy Ever After, which readers might know as the Egerton Hall Trilogy. I don’t think it’s ever been out of print since its original publication, but it’s disappointing that it didn’t feature on prize lists. A lot of Adèle’s current adult readers will fondly remember the hilarious Fantora Family Files which enjoyed a very long life in several editions, the rights having been snapped up by different publishers. That’s a quality enjoyed by many of Adèle’s stories, in fact – they often find themselves in new editions, in new formats, in new territories, long after they were written.
If you’d like to find out more about Adèle’s other books, visit her website. You can also follow her on Twitter. Her latest book is Love, Or Nearest Offer, published by Quercus, is out now in hardback, and will be published in paperback on 1 September.