July 27, 2012 9:24 pm

The Inventory: Fay Weldon

‘I glimpsed the afterlife once, but didn’t have the chance to investigate’
Fay Weldon©Sebastian Willnow/AFP

Fay Weldon, 80, has written more than 30 books and was appointed CBE for services to literature in 2001.

. . .

What was your earliest ambition?
To marry a prince and live happily ever after. Failing that, to be a ballet dancer. Or a doctor, like my father.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
I was a beneficiary of the 1946 Education Act, a scholarship girl. Free tuition, uniform and lunch at South Hampstead School for Girls; maintenance as well when I went on to St Andrews. I never felt so rich!

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Who was your mentor?
My mother: a writer, and a writer’s daughter – a serious intellectual who thought she had bred a frivolous and amoral child whose only hope lay in passing exams. She was full of insights.

How physically fit are you?
I think I must be very fit. I’m 80 and still have a job as a professor. My knees aren’t what they were, but neither, I notice, are anyone else’s.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Writing as a profession is a sequence of failed ambitions. You never succeed in writing the book you want or you’d never bother to write the next. So for writers, ambition is irrelevant. All you can do is write as well as your talent will allow.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?
Yes, I wanted to get into Mensa. A group of us all got in, but only by asking each other the questions, so it didn’t really count. The real Mensa members were too clever to be sociable, anyway.

How politically committed are you?
I used to lean to the left, I suppose, but then the left toppled over.

If you had a coat of arms, what would be on it?

Fay Weldon seal

A William Blake God, leaning out of heaven with his compasses, blessing a Beryl Cook woman at the seaside down below. A maypole. A New Zealand fern leaf.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?
I don’t drive, don’t go on holidays, use the local farmers’ market, and I use the Chunnel when I can.

Do you have more than one home?
No. For a time in the past I’d have two. One serious home I’d live in with a man, and another that I’d call my office, but was more like a Wendy house. Left to myself I have shamelessly girly taste.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
I used to think I wanted a Kindle. But now I have one I can’t work it; nor do I find I want to.

What’s your biggest extravagance?
Thick typing paper when flimsy will do. Expensive face cream when own brands work just as well. Otherwise, I suppose I’m a cheap date.

In what place are you happiest?
Home.

What ambitions do you still have?
I’ve written an opera with French composer Alain Jomy of Raymond Radiguet’s novel Le Diable au Corps. We’re without a producer since poor Vincent Malle died. We’re looking for a backer. Anyone out there?

What drives you on?
There seems so much to be said, and so little time to say it in.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Staying alive. That seems a miracle in itself. Four healthy, grown children? Even more so.

What has been your greatest disappointment?
I don’t want to say. Does anyone ever want to answer that question?

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
“Oh my God! Is that what happens? Let me never reach 30!”

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
Start again.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?
I think it’s too much of a burden for the dying to put on the living.

Do you believe in an afterlife?
Yes. I had a glimpse of it once when I was in hospital and my heart stopped, but the crash team pulled me back, so I couldn’t investigate.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Look. I’m 80, I’m there. Nine. On further reflection, it’s had its ups and downs. 8.5?

‘Habits of the House’ by Fay Weldon is published by Head of Zeus, hardback £16.99, ebook £7.99

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