Small talk: Téa Obreht

Last month, Téa Obreht, 25, became the youngest winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife. Born in the former Yugoslavia, Obreht also lived in Cyprus and Egypt before moving with her family to the US in 1997. In 2010, Obreht was named one of The New Yorker’s “Top 20 Writers Under 40”. She lives in Ithaca, New York state.

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

About the age of eight. I had developed a fascination with my mother’s laptop. I wrote a small paragraph about a goat, announced my intention to write for a living to the household and there has never been any alternative plan.

Who is your perfect reader?

Neither my agent nor my editor ever let me get away with anything. This, as fortune would have it, makes them perfect readers.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Stephanie Vaughn’s incomparable Sweet Talk; Maria Dahvana Headley’s genre-bending, myth-breaking Queen of Kings; and an advance copy of Chad Harbach’s debut, The Art of Fielding.

What book changed your life?

TC Boyle’s Descent of Man. The book of short stories was gifted to me at a time in my life when I had hit a wall with my own work and reading it was like being handed a wrecking ball.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

Vampire-hunting in Serbia.

What do you snack on while you write?

Almost exclusively coffee. Then, as the night wears on, lukewarm oolong [Chinese tea].

Who are your literary influences?

Isak Dinesen, Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel García-Márquez, Roald Dahl and Mikhail Bulgakov.

What is your daily writing routine?

It’s more of a nightly writing routine – most of The Tiger’s Wife was written between the hours of 8pm and 5am, under the influence of caffeine, Frasier re-runs and a lot of artificial light.

What are you scared of?

Complacency and disenchantment.

How do you relax?

By compiling soundtracks for whatever I am working on and taking long drives through the countryside with the radio blaring.

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

It’s difficult to translate but it went something like, “Don’t half-ass this, or anything else you do, or you will regret it for the rest of your life.”

What book do you wish you had written?

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.

What does it mean to be a writer?

To me, writing has always been about the privilege of storytelling.

Téa Obreht’s ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ is out now (Phoenix Paperback)

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