Small talk: Salley Vickers

Psychotherapist-turned-novelist Salley Vickers was 50 when she published her first novel, Miss Garnet’s Angel (2000). Born in Liverpool in 1948, she read English literature at Cambridge University and, after a spell of teaching, worked as a Jungian analytical psychotherapist until 2002, when she devoted herself to writing. Her other books include Mr Golightly’s Holiday (2003), Dancing Backwards (2009) and Where Three Roads Meet (2007). Vickers lives in London and Cambridge. She has two sons and two grandchildren.

Who is your perfect reader?

A Radio 3 listener, who likes visiting art galleries and also likes classical music of all kinds.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Weeds by Richard Mabey; a new novella by Allan Massie called Klaus; The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist; War and Peace.

What book changed your life?

Probably Modern Man in Search of a Soul by Carl Jung, which I read before I was 11. It made me want to become a Jungian analyst.

Where do you write best?

For each book it’s a different location: Venice, Paris, Rome, Dartmoor ... I always require a view and lots of light.

What do you snack on while you write?

Cheese, celery, carrots and mind-boggling amounts of coffee.

Who are your literary influences?

Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ivan Turgenev, George Eliot.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

John Donne. He was brilliant, devout, sexy, quixotic, a poetry lover and terribly interested in psychotherapy.

How do you relax?

With a nice bottle of wine, talking to friends, dancing. And I love opera and musicals.

What book do you wish you’d written?

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. She’s my hero. Her spare style is compelling and her humour is scintillating but never cruel. I’m a great believer in the late start and she was a late starter too.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Isabel Archer [from Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady]. I don’t think I’m going to say why.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

I’d work in a bookshop, preferably John Sandoe’s near Sloane Square – if they’d have me.

What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?

I’d give a teenager The Catcher in the Rye. I’ve given it to many disaffected young people and it has often worked.

What does it mean to be a writer?

To me it means to go on living an ordinary life, without getting too precious or cut off by a rarefied, writerly world. I always say, get stuck in and muck in.

Salley Vickers’ latest book is ‘Aphrodite’s Hat’ (Fourth Estate), a collection of short stories

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