Tell us a little bit about yourself
It is hard to decide which little bit is worth telling! For the purposes of this questionnaire: I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, an American, a Democrat, a long term ex-pat living in Italy and London, and a former television drama producer turned author, editor and screenwriter.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It changed throughout childhood: I am sure I wanted by turns to be an astronaut (which gives away my era), a ballet dancer (sadly without any talent for it) and an actress (ditto!) – but as time went on I decided the best job would be a librarian – imagine that, I told my mother, your whole day would just be books, books, books . . . what could be better? On my father’s recent death I found tucked away in his study a picture book I made for him as a child of eight or so, which ends with an author’s profile on the inside back cover, including a drawing of myself (big eyes, dark rimmed glasses, crazy hair) and the legend: “Eileen will be a famous writer when she grows up.” I guess I’m still coming of age.
What books have had a lasting impact on you?
So many. I have thin reader’s skin and feel the deep impact of every great and even not-so-great book I read (and re-read) today. I love narrative fiction. All the short stories of Alice Munro. The novels of John Steinbeck from an early age; The Name of the Rose for the sheer breadth of the author’s genius; the complete works of Zola for the same reason. Memoir and nonfiction have had a huge impact too , starting with Oriana Fallaci’s A Man, a labour of love which changed the way I saw the world at age fifteen.
Why do you write?
It’s never seemed like a choice – more a compulsion. I love the investigative process of writing.
Your advice to new writers just starting out?
As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
It changes – but at the moment, my recent book on Zola’s publisher because I’ve had such wonderful feedback from the family of the wronged hero telling me what solace and closure it brought to them a century later – it gives me a great sense of pride to think I’ve done what Zola forecast: “let all be set forth so that all may be healed’. I am just as embarrassed of writing the same book because I secretly feel a fraud for not speaking French and daring to write about a great Frenchman having not read him in his native language.
What is your biggest failure?
A marriage or two.
Your views on success?
It’s definition changes as life goes on. Right now, at age 51, I’d say it is peace of mind.
What are you working on at the moment?
A raft of ideas for radio, a TV project, and just doodling around the edges of a new book project set in Italy.
Your views on book publishing?
I can’t believe it will all “go digital” as the doom-mongers have it– I love holding printed books, much as I use my Kindle app. I am sure we’ll continued to be “surrounded by books”, loving real bookstores, building real libraries . . .
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life?
Research, research, research – it is still tremendously time consuming and the search engine is as distracting as it is invaluable, but it makes whole new universes available, quickly. The change for the worse is obvious – less thinking time because answers, text, responses to queries are so very instant. I miss the pauses.
Your views on social media?
It is a thief of my time. I’ve just deleted FaceBook from my phone so that I don’t turn into one of those stumbling fools on the high street bumping into strangers while reading about Trump.
Do you enjoy reading ebooks?
I enjoy reading all books of course – e or otherwise. Ebooks are such a great invention for the frequent traveller too; gone are the days when I had a second suitcase for my books! But as above, I love to hold a real printed book in my hands – the feel of it, the smell of it, the page-turning . . . nothing can beat that.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
The piano nobile, Palazzo Medici, Florence, circa 1480s, when Lorenzo was in his prime – it’s a long (love) story.
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Such an unfair question – this cast might change month to month! And is it only a party of five? Sounds like a dinner party. In that case I’ll leave out musicians and dancers – though not always great conversationalists, they are usually the life and soul of big parties. So at the dinner table . . . Barack and Michelle Obama, Umberto Eco, (seated next to) Leonardo da Vinci, and Zola. I don’t think we’d run out of conversation, though Umberto might have to do some translation for the Americans.
Which characters in history do you like the most?
Which characters in history do you dislike the most?
Your idea of happiness?
Finding a partnership of equals.
Your greatest unhappiness?
Lost loved ones.
Your bedside reading?
Short stories. I fall asleep fast.
Your greatest achievement?
My remarkable daughter Lily, if I can claim her as ‘my’ achievement!
Your favourite motto?
Carpe the fuck out of this diem.
Interview © BookBlast Ltd, London. Questions forma © BookBlast Ltd, London.