Jessie Burton, 36, is the author of The Miniaturist, which has been translated into 38 languages and sold more than a million copies. Her second novel, The Muse, was also a bestseller.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
Being a pub landlady held great appeal — I would play at having a pub and telling people to get out of it. I don’t know why!
Private school or state school? University or straight into work?
Lady Margaret School in Parsons Green, London, a comprehensive. English and Spanish at Oxford, then a post-grad in acting at Central School of Speech and Drama.
Who was or still is your mentor?
Mr Owen, my English teacher, who always pushed us to do things outside the curriculum — he would make us finish Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, memorise great tracts of Shakespeare. Mrs Raynsford, my Spanish teacher, the first one who treated us like adults, which I really appreciated.
How physically fit are you?
I was quite fit about six months ago and I was training for a mini triathlon, but I have hypermobility and I’ve given myself quite a bad injury.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
You have to want something, but when you get the chance to deliver it, you have to deliver. So both are required. Ultimately, luck matters even more.
How politically committed are you?
Not enough. I’ve always voted in local and national elections. I’m one of the majority who’s never at rallies or marches, not particularly engaged. I think the disaster — and I view Brexit as a disaster — woke me up a bit, made me think more about what I can do in the future.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A painting by Frida Kahlo — one of her self-portraits. Her gaze, her power…
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Clothes. Fashion is really important to me — what I wear is part of the story of the day.
In what place are you happiest?
In a clothes shop — a vintage clothes shop, just rummaging. Also, in bed; clean sheets and a book.
What ambitions do you still have?
To go back to where it all began for me, which is the theatre, and write a play. I’d like to make some magic happen in the theatre.
What drives you on?
Probably my accountant! I have to earn a living. There’s that prosaic element. I think I’m going to take a break after each book, then within a week, I’m writing again — I can’t not write. Having a readership is the most wonderful, amazing thing.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
The Miniaturist. It came out of a place of professional and creative frustration. Things weren’t happening in the acting world. I’d always wanted to be an actress but I was a writer — I had to accept that. I changed the course of my life with that book.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
Rudeness. Thoughtlessness. I also don’t like naked opportunism. I can generally sniff it out.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
Because of the book, she’d be pretty impressed. And mystified by how I achieved it. I was quite intimidated by the literary scene at Oxford.
Which object that you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
I only lost them because I grew out of them, but a pair of pink trainers I had when I was five. I can’t tell you how much joy they brought me. Thirty years later I still remember the thrill of putting them on, feeling like I was queen of the world.
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
Climate change. It’s not just about some melting ice, it’s going to have a huge impact on the way the world operates. It’s heartbreaking to think we could have done more to manage it, even to prevent it.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
Probably no. I think when you’re done, you’re done.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
A good old eight. If I say 10, the only way is down and it would be hard to maintain. Things are good. I’m very lucky.
Jessie Burton’s first book for children, ‘The Restless Girls’, illustrated by Angela Barrett, is published by Bloomsbury (£14.99)
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