About my writing:
It’s the people traditionally left out of the frame who interest me the most, as well as what happens after what would be the climax in many stories. A couple reuniting after the war, in IN THE MOOD; a woman who has changed her name and started a new life, only to find her old life catching up with her, in THE CLEANSKIN; what happens when you break up with the perfect person, in CHOOSING ZOE.
While my novels are set in different eras, they focus on relationships and people. My aim is always to make my characters and their stories as real and sympathetic to the reader as someone they might meet now – whether the story is set in the present or the past. I am interested in the ways we’ve changed and the ways we haven’t, and what this reveals about us and our society now, and what might constitute our fundamental natures, particularly in our intimate relationships: how we feel about ourselves, what holds us back, and how far we’ll go for what we want and believe.
In my writing I am trying to convey a sense of ‘all time happening all the time’. Not just because I think this is true in people’s personal experiences – our memories and past experiences are always informing our experience of the present, and vice versa – but I think it’s true in our collective experience as well. Our memories of the past as a society, as well as the experiences themselves, are here with us now, changing us, just as we keep changing and retelling the story of our past, in a constantly evolving exchange.
More about me: The Proust Questionnaire
These questions appear regularly in Vanity Fair magazine, and are based on a 19th century Parisian parlour game believed to have been originated by Antoinette Faure. Proust completed it twice. I answer it here for the second time.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
On my front verandah at dusk on a Friday evening. Chilled glass of white wine in my hand, bowl of salty snacks at my elbow, family and friends arranged likewise. The children are playing happily, yet look distinctly sleepy.
What is your greatest fear?
Illness or death of people mentioned in the previous answer.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My unwavering sense of dread. I can find the dark cloud to any silver lining.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
My cat Remy for his self possession. My dog Jenny for her sweetness and enthusiasm.
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your current state of mind?
Happy with a base note of dread.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
Kindness. Strength. Tenderness.
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Kindness. Wit. Charm.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I did not know that.
When and where were you happiest?
Most recently sitting on the beach in Angourie, Yamba, surrounded by my human and animal family, with full moon and bonfire.
Who are your favourite writers?
Fiction: Ethel Turner, Joanna Trollope, Sue Miller, Jane Austen, Nancy Mitford. Colette, Anton Checkhov, John Updike, Edith Wharton, Doris Lessing, Alice Munro.
Non Fiction: Ariel Levy, George Orwell, Judith Thurman, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Antony Beevor.
What talent would you most like to have?
To ice skate like Michelle Kwan. To sing like Donna Summer.
Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
It’s a toss up between Claudine, described by Judith Thurman as the world’s first teenager, from the Claudine novels by Colette; Linda Radlett, in The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford; and Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick, by John Updike.
Who are your heroes in real life?
JS Bach, Dolly Parton, Doris Lessing – and all those who have endured difficulties and overturned expectations to fulfil their unique creative potential.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My chosen family. Coming to grips with the art of the novel.
Where would you like to live?
Apart from where I live now – in a house on South Park Green backing on to Hampstead Heath, in London.
What is your most treasured possession?
My companion animals – although they can’t be described as possessions.
What do you regard as the lowest depths of misery?
The pediatric ward at Tweed Hospital. Although it’s peopled by angels, it feels like hell.
What do you most value in your friends?
Commitment through the good times and the bad.
What are you favourite names?
Leo. Fu-He. Violet. Adelaide. My son, godson and honorary nieces.
What is it that you most dislike?
What is your greatest regret?
That I haven’t had more self-confidence.
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?
Forget it, Dude, let’s go bowling.