I’m thrilled to kick off this second series of interviews with fabulous authors who have written widely, across different age groups and in different genres, over many years – in short, writers who’ve made a writing life not only work but thrive. And I couldn’t be more thrilled than I am to begin by featuring Anne Fine.
Fearless and funny, often at the same time, Anne is one of our most distinguished writers. She has twice been named Author of the Year at the industry’s awards and has won a dazzling array of prizes, judged by her fans and by her peers, including two Carnegie Medals and two Whitbread (now Costa) awards.
Anne has published over fifty books for readers of all ages. Her latest book, Battle of Wills, for adult readers, has just been published. It’s a brilliantly black comedy about families stretched to their limits – revealing the cracks they’ve spent years papering over, and the new strengths they release when they stand apart from the people who depend on them.
Now, let’s revisit some of Anne’s other books, in her own words …
- What was the first book you wrote?
My first book, started from boredom in a blizzard, was for nine to twelve year olds, and was called The Summer House Loon. (A terrible title so it’s now On the Summerhouse Steps.) It was reviewed as ‘a sunny, stylish extravaganza’, and with no dark threads or thought-provoking issues, it’s entirely untypical of my novels for that age group – just a light and cheerful read. The best thing was that it was runner-up to Jan Mark’s winning novel, Thunder and Lightnings, in that year’s Guardian/Kestrel Award. At the party I was approached by Gina Pollinger, then the best children’s agent in Britain. So I had an excellent kick-off for my career.
- For which book would you like to be remembered?
I swither on this. Most people urge me to opt for The Tulip Touch or Flour Babies. (If the film hadn’t coloured the story for me – and not for the better – I’d probably have chosen Madame Doubtfire.) But my work is getting darker and darker in spirit, just as I fear I am. So I would probably opt for Blood Family – though unlike its immediate predecessor, The Road of Bones, it does at least have an optimistic ending.
- Is there a book you abandoned partway through?
My second novel for adults, Taking the Devil’s Advice, was abandoned at least three times over the years. In the end, I boiled what had been about eighty hand-written pages down to a three-page riff where Oliver, the philosopher father, accidentally starves his daughters’ gerbils to death while house-sitting for his former wife over Christmas. It’s hard to write a comedy about a (admittedly semi-autobiographical) marital separation. I think I’m proudest of the fact that my ex-hubby cadges a fresh copy of this book almost every time I see him. He can’t be losing them all.
- Is there a book you know you’ll never write?
No, though there are several types of books I could never be bothered to try to write. I don’t take to Magic Realism. I simply can’t see the point. I’m bored by fantasy worlds. I’m less interested in Whodunnit than in Whydoitinthefirstplace. And someone like me, who can spot emotional niggles under a stone three counties over, couldn’t possibly write romance.
- Which book do you believe should have fared better?
In Cold Domain. I don’t pride myself on my plots, but I’m sometimes astonished at how neat they can appear to be when I’ve finished. I’ve always just been picking my way through. I think In Cold Domain is enchanting because everyone gets their just desserts at the end – always satisfying. I know a couple of reviewers (one male, one female) tried to blight it by claiming that a straight woman shouldn’t write about gay men. (Hello? End of literature as we know it?) But it’s clever and funny and it’s always been one of my favourites.
- Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions to a particular book?
Not with the books for younger readers, no, because I so often write them to a purpose. Take The Angel of Nitshill Road (for seven to ten year olds). My own daughters were so disturbed by the spite and nastiness they saw around them in their primary school that I wrote the story with comfort for bullied children foremost in my mind. So I can’t say I’m surprised to get so many letters saying how much that book and several others, have helped.
Responses to my adult novels are very different. I think I’m like Marmite. Some people love my stuff. But a considerable number respond along the lines of, ‘I did not like this book at all because I did not like anybody in it.’ This never fails to astonish me. I don’t do black-hearted villains. I just write about the everyday sort of people we all meet, and work with, and marry. Where do these other readers live, for heaven’s sake? In Noddyland?
- What book do you wish you’d written?
The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead. Brilliant and harrowing – and the response to its publication was almost entirely flattened by the outbreak of WWII. The novel didn’t come into its own till it was reprinted in the sixties.
And for children? Either The Once and Future King, or Mistress Masham’s Repose – both works of genius by T.H. White.
- What are you writing now?
It’s called The Silver Book, though that may change. And I’ve been secretive about work in progress since I was seven years old. So don’t expect to find out any more until I finish it.
photo courtesy of The Guardian
For more about Anne – her childhood, her writing habits, her awards, her work as Children’s Laureate and, of course, about all the books, visit her website.