Diane Setterfield is the bestselling author of The Thirteenth Tale. Her latest novel, Bellman & Black is a haunting Victorian tale of love, loss and the mystery of death. Here, Diane answers a few of our probing questions.
Who is your favorite author?
I couldn’t possibly choose a single author. You need one author for days when you want the pleasures of familiarity, another for when you want to laugh, another for those times when you want to be taken out of your comfort zone and surprised . . . The key is to find the right author for the right moment – and that is why if I’m not enjoying a book, I often put it aside and have another go on another day.
What book do you most often recommend to friends?
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.
Do you have any writing rituals?
No. For one thing, a book requires very different things from me at different stages of development; for another, I like to think of it as a craft, not a mysterious process dependent on esoteric processes. (Yet writing IS a mysterious process and I don’t always understand the why and the how of what I’m doing. Every novel teaches me a bit more at the same time as it highlights new mysteries. Maybe I should have a ritual.)
If you weren’t a writer what job would you liked to have gone into?
I’d have liked to be a cabinet maker. I love wood and smooth running drawers and dovetail joints.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Meeting readers. I just came back from a literary festival in Christchurch, New Zealand where I met wonderful readers, full of unexpected and thought-provoking questions and observations. It was a thrilling trip and I came back buzzing with enthusiasm.
What one item could you not live without?
Bulldog clips to keep my paperwork tidy.
Tell us something that will shock your readers?
Yesterday I spent twenty minutes online looking at vintage bulldog clips.
What makes you happy?
A freshly painted room before the furniture has gone back in. Oak trees in winter. Oak trees in summer. A certain shade of blue with a touch of green in it. Coming out of a bookshop with a stash of new reading. A nice pot of tea. Ivy. Prawns in their shells with really good mayonnaise and loads and loads of lemon juice. Oslo airport. Euphorbias. Stroking a cat. The Thames. Watching Poirot DVDs with my nieces. The smell of old fashioned roses. Paint colour charts. Eavesdropping. Baklava. Firework night. Norfolk. Writing this list.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My Dad told me: If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.
This is advice I took on board whole-heartedly. There is another bit of advice half-concealed within it: if a thing’s not worth doing, DON’T DO IT. This is as valuable as the ‘doing things properly’ stuff – and harder.
The members of my dream book club would be . . .
The members of my old book club! If only I could teletransport myself back to Harrogate every Thursday evening to be with Jenny, Juliet, Sally, Jean and Diane again (not me, another Diane).
Bellman & Black is out now in paperback, eBook and audio.