Lesley Glaister has written thirteen novels – the kind that linger in the mind, playfully haunting you in the way Daphne du Maurier’s books do. Little Egypt is the latest but others include Nina Todd Has Gone, Honour Thy Father, Sheer Blue Bliss and Honour Thy Father. With good reason she has been described as ‘master of the sinister and creepy’ but Lesley claims to be ‘as normal as anything.’ That’s a quote from a Herald Scotland interview where she went on to explain: ‘I do find the act of writing soothing, even when it’s quite dark … There’s something really satisfying, almost like putting your finger on a nerve, and finding the right word.’
Lesley has made a writing life work over many years, book by book, moving publishers as fortunes and fashions fluctuate. But she’s always believed it to be a job – ‘writing a novel means sitting down and putting in the hours.’ Another part of that writing life has included living with another writer – her partner is Andrew Greig. She said, ‘When we first got together I was very much a novelist and Andrew was very much a poet. And then he became a novelist. I had to negotiate my place then, we both did. So there was some jostling. There’s no competition, and we are pleased for each other when we are successful, and sympathetic when not. And it’s nice being with someone who completely understands, and I would say now that that’s the strongest thing.’
- What was the first book you wrote?
The first full-length novel I completed was about a girl born with a terrible birthmark on one side of her face, though the other side was incredibly beautiful. It was, if I remember correctly, more about her mother and they way she brought her up, than about the girl herself. It was all a bit mystical and feminist and – though I did get interested and encouraging remarks from publishers – it was never published. I’m glad!
- For which book would you like to be remembered
Probably one I haven’t written yet! From those I have written, it’s very hard to choose. Little Egypt was a struggle to write and took about 20 years altogether but I am happy with how it worked out. I am proud of Easy Peasy, for which I researched into my father’s experience as a POW working on the Burma/Siam railway – it was an emotional journey; and it nearly sent me doolally writing a portrait of my dad, as truly as I could, but setting him in a fictional family. And obviously my first published novel – Honour Thy Father – has a special place in my heart.
- Is there a book you abandoned partway through?
I abandoned Little Egypt several times, and for several different reasons – but was always drawn back to it. The book I’m working on at the moment, provisionally titled Blasted Things, was abandoned but I’ve recently returned to have another look and try to work out where I went off the tracks. I’ll be jettisoning most of it, I think. So I’m not sure if I’ve really returned to it or whether I am, in fact, writing another book with the same title.
Oh, and just remembered – urged by my agent and with the idea of trying to be ‘more commercial’ I did begin writing a crime novel once. I think it was pretty good as far as it went, but somehow I couldn’t quite believe in it and so gave it up.
- Is there a book you know you’ll never write?
I imagine there are millions! I’ll never write fantasy or Tudor history or Mills & Boon type romance and certainly not a cowboy novel! One of my publishers wanted me to move further towards genre crime/suspense/thriller – most of my novels have elements of these but can’t really be fit into any box. See above re crime novel.
- Which book do you believe should have fared better
Apart from the first couple, whose success took me by surprise, I suppose I’d say all of them. I am one of those sometimes called a ‘writers’ writer’ who get good reviews and are longlisted or shortlisted for prizes but this respectful success doesn’t translate into massive sales. Many of my novels have been optioned for film and certainly a film would help.
- Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions to a particular book?
I’m always very pleasantly surprised by a good review. In one of my books, As Far As You Can Go, more than critic said my characters were unbelievably naïve, which I found surprising, since it’s based on what some people I know really did!
- What book do you wish you’d written?
That’s an impossible question! To answer it would be to try and write it, or at least plan it. But I’d like it to be exciting, scary, moving, funny, bursting with colour and life, with irresistible and unforgettable characters and brilliant dialogue.
- What are you writing now?
I recently finished a novel called The Squeeze which will be published this summer and I’ve gone back to working on the novel mentioned above, which is set in the 1920s, the ‘blasted things’ of the title are people variously damaged by their experiences and how they come to terms with this damage – physical and psychological. I’m aiming to give it a noirish flavour imagining the scenes like an old film as I write and am edging towards a horrible crime ….
I’m looking forward to The Squeeze – Lesley is brilliant at evoking the past as well as creeping up the present. Meantime, do investigate her backlist. I know many of you will relate to the idea of being a ‘writers’ writer’ – we could make it a joint mission in 2017 to turn people like Lesley Glaister into – how shall we put it? – ‘readers’ writers’ (?) too!