October 11, 2008 1:48 am

Small Talk: Anita Shreve

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Anita Shreve always wanted to be a writer and used to send poems to magazines as a child. Born in 1946 in Dedham, Massachusetts, Shreve worked first as a high school teacher and then spent three years as a journalist in Nairobi before returning to the US. Since her 1989 debut novel, Eden Close, she has published 12 more; The Weight of Water was shortlisted for the 1998 Orange Prize for Fiction. Shreve is married with two children and three stepchildren. She lives in Massachusetts.

Who is your perfect reader?

A man who has picked up one of my books and is intrigued by my writing. Most of my fans are women.

Where do you write best?

In my office at home. I go straight in there in the morning, in my bathrobe. Airports and airplanes are also good cocoons for writing.

What do you find hardest about writing?

Getting going. I sometimes rewrite my first 50 pages 20 times to get the tone right and to find a speaker.

Who are your literary heroes?

Shirley Hazzard. Her book The Transit of Venus is one of the finest novels written in the English language. I also like Ian McEwan, Rose Tremain and Alice McDermott.

What book changed your life?

In my junior year in high school I read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and discovered the power of novels.

What would you change about yourself?

Currently I’d have less inertia about getting up and working out. I love to walk but I’m bad at going to the gym.

What are you most proud of writing?

The Weight of Water. I think it worked in a particularly interesting way. And Testimony tells a story in the way I’d hoped it would.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

If I faced something that was seemingly impossible, my father always said: “You can do it”. Those words are ingrained in me, even now.

How do you relax?

I turn off the “switch” really well. It takes me about an hour and a half to go from being a writer to being a normal person and the transition is a bristly one. But being able to do this keeps me going.

What advice would you give to a budding author?

Don’t give up. There are so many obstacles to becoming a writer so it’s easy to do. But rejections are tickets to the game.

Anita Shreve’s latest novel is ‘Testimony’ (Little, Brown)

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