Open Page with Rose Tremain

Rose Tremain via PRH Aus websiteWhy do you write?

To find out what I truly think and believe. Every novel is a new journey of discovery. It’s just a shame it has to end one day …

Are you a vivid dreamer?

Yes. But nearly all my dreams turn around the same anxiety: being lost. Sometimes I’m in an alien city or sometimes in a wilderness, or sometimes in a banal environment like a hotel corridor or a car park, but in every case I have no idea where I’m going, or how to find true north.

Where are you happiest?

At home in Norfolk, England, working in my study.

What is your favourite film?

Anthony Minghella’s film of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. I fall in love with Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes all over again each time I watch it.

And your favourite book?

Let me give you a selection: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy, The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer, Quarantine by Jim Crace, The Spire by William Golding, Voss by Patrick White, Bad Land by Jonathan Raban. And oh yes, the Collected Poems of Philip Larkin and W.H. Auden.

Name the three people with whom you would most like to dine.

Can I invite some of my own characters – to see whether I love them as much as I think I do? Merivel from Restoration, Lev from The Road Home and Gustav from The Gustav Sonata. The only trouble is, Merivel would snaffle all the food …

Which word do you most dislike, and which one would you like to see back in public usage?

What I dislike most are not individual words but acronyms. We live in a forest of imperious CAPITALS, which, after a while, become separated from what they stand for, or BSFWTSF. Bring whole words back into the conversation, I say.

Who is your favourite author?

You mean, it could be somebody else, not Shakespeare? I don’t think so.

And your favourite literary hero and heroine?

Saul Bellow’s Henderson in Henderson the Rain King, a man tormented by material need who saves his sanity by going to live among a primitive African tribe, is a profoundly affecting anti-hero. Staying in Africa, Lucy in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace strides towards the reader in all her marvellous severity. Her refusal to compromise shakes my very bones.

Which qualities do you most admire in a writer?

Imagination. Humour. Seriousness. A quest for truth.

Name an early literary idol or influence whom you no longer admire – or vice versa.

Lawrence Durrell. At fifteen, I loved his prose so much, I wanted to eat the book; now I want to chuck all that purple nonsense into the bin.

What, if anything, impedes your writing?

Everything potentially impedes it. But I long ago understood that if I’m not writing, I just fall into sadness and negativity about the state of the world. When I come into my study, I try to leave the world outside the door and just commit to the next thought, the next idea, the next line …

How do you regard publishers?

All of them publish far too much, so that bookstores are drowning in the mediocre. The shelf life of books is very short, and the reading public is wildly confused about what is good and what is weak. This needs to be addressed.

What do you think of the state of criticism?

Not exactly brilliant. Reviewers seldom seem to read beyond the work in hand, to get a deeper sense of what an individual writer is trying to do.

And writers’ festivals?

Very uneven, and most of them put writers on a humiliating minimum wage. But the best of them – e.g. Adelaide, Toronto, Cheltenham, and Hay – can be enormous fun and a great showcase for new work.

Are artists valued in our society?

The arts have been horribly monetised, so I think the public is profoundly confused about what is genuinely worthy and what is pure garbage.

What are you working on now?

A new novel set in 1865, partly in the city of Bath and partly on the island of Borneo. My heroine, Jane Adeane, is 6’3” tall and proud of every inch.


Rose Tremain’s most recent books are the short story collection The American Lover (2014), the novel The Gustav Sonata (2014), and the memoir Rosie (2018).

Published in August 2018, no. 403

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