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Rose Tremain
Trespass is a fantastically gripping thriller and it’s also a novel about place/home/identity – what came first?
The setting actually came first. I’ve known the Cevennes for a long time and, although it’s a very beautiful region of France, it’s also wild and inaccessible and has a sinister face. I’ve wanted to set a novel there for a while, and the idea of an English person (Anthony Verey) who is searching for a new way forward in a life that’s stalled and failing, and then choosing the Cevennes as his new location, seemed highly promising. It also led, in my mind, to one thing: a violent crime of some kind.
Your Orange Prize winning novel The Road Home has similar themes – albeit from a very different point of view. Is the concept of home important to you?
These two novels are very different. The Road Home is a very optimistic book, Trespass far less so. Lev, in The Road Home, has a lot of life in front of him and he’s determined to haul himself out of despair and poverty while he’s still young enough to care – and he does it. But both he and Anthony Verey become exiles of a kind – at least for a while – and this state of EXILE seems to me to be very terrifying indeed. Home, then, is certainly important to me, and keeping to familiar routines and being able to SWIM in the language. This last is especially important for writers.
Your novels shift in time and from one place to another – and you seem totally comfortable wherever you are! How do you create such different, atmospheric and convincing accounts?
To me, this is the prime aim of my books, to encounter new settings, people and places and find a way to inhabit them. I have never found this difficult. As a child, I lived in a kind of make-believe world for a lot of the time. And I am much less comfortable writing about people who are like me or who have some of my biography. INVENTION is the fun thing.
You’ve said in other interviews that as part of the Amis/McEwan generation you’ve spent your entire working life in their shadows. A new study confirmed that that leading literary magazines in Britain and the US focus their review coverage on books written by men, and commission more men than women to write about them -plus ça change. Would you like to comment?
I’m not certain about the man/woman ratio. We do have a lot of good women writers making it through to the top, both here and in the US. I don’t go around looking for male conspiracies to keep women writers down – though I have had a hell of a lot of stories turned down by the male-dominated New Yorker! But perhaps there are fewer of us because it’s harder for women, as primary carers of their children, to dedicate themselves to a writing life. Who knows? (I only have one child, but perhaps it I’d three or four, my time for writing would have been so curtailed as to make success impossible to achieve.) But as far as the Amis-McEwan generation are concerned, I think all of us who are their contemporaries suffered for a long time in their shadow simply because, like Shelley, they were STARS at a very young age, and a career trajectory like mine or like Pat Barker’s, say, is much less remarkable because it develops more slowly, over time.
As one of Granta’s first Best of Young British Novelists list in 1983 what advice would you give to today’s young writers, competing in a rather cut-throat business?
I’d say what I always used to say to my students: write with your head and your heart. Write only the things you really really want to write and forget about everything else. Then, maybe you will come up with something that has integrity and panache and originality.
Who would you invite to join your fantasy bookgroup?
I think I’d have an all-woman group. Furthermore, I think I'd go for a group of characters, discussing their own evocations: Dorothea from Middlemarch, Viola from Twelfth Night, Cordelia from King Lear, Eugenie from Eugenie Grandet, Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, Emma Bovary from Madame Bovary, Mrs Dalloway from Mrs Dalloway…. You get the drift… And can’t you just hear Cordelia saying: “Honestly, I was never usually that outspoken, I don’t why Will made me say ‘Nothing’ like that. I knew it was going to bring trouble!”
Rose Tremain

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