In The Library

‘Writing is a little like acting’: One Book Lane catches up with Essie Fox

Following on from Victorian Gothic novels The Somnambulist, Elijah’s Mermaid and The Goddess and the ThiefEssie Fox’s latest book, The Last Days of Leda Grey, is a bewitching novel about an enigmatic silent film actress, and the volatile love affair that left her a recluse for over half a century.  Here we find out a little more about Essie as she answers our burning questions.

Who is your favourite author?

Oh, it’s terribly hard to come up with just one name! I so often fall in love with new books and, therefore, with their authors. But, for me, a truly enduring love must be the author Angela Carter for her gift of telling the darkest tales in such an entertaining way. I also love Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  So, I think the strongest common theme is the way that these three authors tell intensely moving human stories, but all with the twist of fairy tale, or with ghost stories, or magical realism.

 What book do you most often recommend to friends?

Again, this changes as time goes by – but I think the books I’ve most often recommended are Wise Children by Angela Carter, and The House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Every morning, before I get dressed, I get out of bed and then walk down the several flights of stairs to the basement kitchen in my Victorian house. I grind some beans and make coffee which I then take back upstairs to bed, where I have a little breakfast table on which sits my laptop, and my cup. Ideally, I like to work there until lunchtime. It’s when I do my best writing – completely undisturbed by any thoughts of normal daily life.

If you weren’t a writer what job would you liked to have gone into?

I would have loved to act. In a way, I think writing is a little like acting…playing out parts in your imagination, speaking the dialogue, creating the action. But, with writing there are no physical restrictions such as your sex, or age, or looks. When creating a character on the page you can be anyone you want to be. You can do anything you like!

 What is the best thing about being a writer?

Ever since I was a little child I’ve loved to make up stories in my head, going to sleep every night while imagining the next ‘episode’ – almost like writing chapters now. I’m so lucky that I can still do that – daydreaming while writing my stories down. But I think the very best thing about writing is when readers get in touch to tell you they’ve enjoyed your work. That is the best feeling. Such a thrill.

What one item could you not live without?

These days – I think my Mac Book Air – on which I’m writing my latest novel. I am ridiculously attached to that little machine and what it contains. I’m at that mid point in the story when I have become totally immersed and don’t want to think about anything else.

 Tell us something that will shock your readers?

I’m an Arsenal FC season ticket holder and I go along to watch all the home games. Is that shocking? I’m not sure. It does seem to surprise some people.

What makes you happy?

Walking through the countryside on a warm summer’s day, ideally somewhere near water or through a wood with the sounds of birds in the trees above. If my husband, daughter and dog could also be there with me then I think that would be my bliss.

 What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

If you blow out the candle next to your own, your flame will not shine any brighter.

I can’t remember where that advice came from now, but I think it is so true. Try to be the best you can be. Shine as brightly as you are able. But never be jealous or resentful of other people’s skill or success.

 The members of my dream book club would be . . .

A bit of an odd mix, but I think we’d have some great discussions –

Samuel Pepys – lots of excellent political gossip, and the chance for some flirting too. But we’d have to wary of what we said or did in case we appeared in his diaries.

Anne Rice – Of the Vampire Chronicles fame. I adore her books, and I follow her on Facebook where she seems such a thoughtful, wise person.

Will Self – One of our cleverest minds. I heard him speak once, and am still in awe. I’m sure he’d stir us all with some controversial comments too.

Gertrude Stein – For all those sharp quips and one-line putdowns. She and Will might take over though.

The Maharajah Duleep Singh – the deposed Indian Maharajah who appears in my latest novel. He was very attractive, with a fascinating and sometimes scandalous life. He would bring a great deal of glamour and a very particular insight into the days of Victorian Empire.

Germaine Greer – For a bold, down to earth, feminist perspective on any novel that we read.

Geoffrey Chaucer – If anyone understood characterisation, it’s Geoffrey Chaucer. It would be so interesting to hear about his life and times – and again he’d be saucy and great fun.

Brian Eno – I love his music, which we could play in the background while listening to his measured comments.

Essie Fox

Essie Fox divides her time between Windsor and Bow in the East End of London. Her debut novel, The Somnambulist, was selected for the Channel 4 Book Club and was shortlisted in the New Writer of the Year category of the 2012 National Book Awards.