Small Talk: Tessa Hadley

Tessa Hadley is the author of four novels including The Master Bedroom (2007) and The London Train (2011), and two collections of short stories. She lives in Cardiff and is professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University.

Who is your perfect reader?

The reader who loses herself inside a story – who makes excuses to be alone with her book.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

I’ve just finished rereading A Tale of Two Cities, about the French Revolution. I didn’t trust Dickens off his London home turf but there were a few irresistibly funny things – like Mrs Cruncher “flopping” down to pray.

What book changed your life?

DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow coloured everything for a while when I was young – frightening perhaps, in retrospect. Nadine Gordimer’s A Guest of Honour was the first contemporary novel I read that convinced me writing now was as good as the great writing of the past.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

I knew I wanted to do it when I was a child. I didn’t know I could write anything anyone would want to read until much later, in my forties.

What is your daily writing routine?

Write first, before other stuff gets in the way, for about four hours. On the computer, with notebook at hand.

Where do you write best?

I have never had a study: I’m superstitious that if I had a room for writing, I would suddenly feel a fraud. So I write at a table in the bedroom.

Who are your literary influences?

There are certain books that I read if I’m stuck – to jolt the writing stream into flowing again. I have pored over Alice Munro’s stories, losing myself while asking: how does she do that?

What music helps you write?

None: can’t imagine doing those two things at once. Music would fill the writing space.

Which literary character most resembles you?

I don’t have a clear sense of the outlines of myself. The great gift of reading is you can identify with each protagonist.

What would you go back and change?

Who would dare to change anything, in case it turned out to have a meaning or value we hadn’t understood?

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

It ought to be something domestic – Titian’s “Pietà” would dwarf our living space. So a Chardin still life then: a pile of raspberries and two white carnations and a glass of water.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Imagine having just one! Is it halfway across Westminster Bridge, or a secret fold in the Brendon Hills in Somerset?

What does it mean to be a writer?

Over a long apprenticeship you learn to manage words and expression as a painter manages colour and effects. This becomes the channel through which everything that matters flows.

Tessa Hadley’s new novel, ‘Clever Girl’, will be published by Jonathan Cape in May

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