Small talk

Cel­e­brated Bri­tish au­thor Mar­garet Drab­ble pro­vides in­sight into the life of a suc­cess­ful nov­el­ist ahead of her ap­pear­ance at the Hong Kong Literary Fes­ti­val

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

Ac­claimed English au­thor Mar­garet Drab­ble, famed for her 1965 fem­i­nist novel The Mill­stone and a head­liner at this year’s Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Literary Fes­ti­val, dis­cusses her life as a writer

t’s now 50 years since the pub­lish­ing of Mar­garet Drab­ble’s sem­i­nal fem­i­nist novel The Mill­stone. The poignant work fol­lows a young woman through sin­gle moth­er­hood in Lon­don as she comes to ac­cept her new child as both a bur­den and a bless­ing. It’s just one of 18 books Drab­ble has writ­ten over her long ca­reer, along with a num­ber of screen­plays, short sto­ries and bi­ogra­phies. Drab­ble was recog­nised for her work in the Queen’s Hon­ours lists of 1980 and 2008, be­ing ap­pointed, re­spec­tively, a Com­man­der (CBE) and a Dame Com­man­der (DBE) of the Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire. This month, the il­lus­tri­ous au­thor will head­line the Hong Kong Literary Fes­ti­val, her first visit to the city since a trip with fel­low Bri­tish au­thor Doris Less­ing more than 20 years ago. The fes­ti­val kicks off on Oc­to­ber 30, and Drab­ble will take part in an in­ti­mate din­ner at the He­lena May on Novem­ber 7. The au­thor, whose sis­ter is the renowned writer AS By­att, will also host a dis­cus­sion on short sto­ries on the morn­ing of Novem­ber 8. fes­ti­val.org.hk

What is the big­gest myth about be­ing a nov­el­ist?

That literary suc­cess brings fame and for­tune. It can do, but it doesn’t al­ways, and it is pos­si­ble to be a great writer with­out achiev­ing ei­ther.

How has the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try changed over your ca­reer?

Out of all recog­ni­tion. It’s much more com­mer­cial, and most of the pub­lish­ing houses have turned into con­glom­er­ates. I was lucky to be well looked af­ter by my early ed­i­tors. Dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing has opened up whole new worlds, which are chang­ing at an amaz­ing speed.

Have your read­ers changed too?

I have many loyal read­ers who have grown old along with me, and they don’t change any more rad­i­cally than I do—but we do all change and evolve. I love to hear from new younger read­ers, some of whom say, “My mother gave me your books, and I loved them.” I like the sense of con­ti­nu­ity.

Which book did you most en­joy writ­ing?

The Mill­stone. I wrote this, my third book, while I was ex­pect­ing my third baby, Joe, and it re­minds me of the un­ex­pected hap­pi­ness my chil­dren brought when they were lit­tle.

Which book do you wish you’d writ­ten your­self?

Ah, so many—per­haps Pride and Prej­u­dice, the per­fect novel? Or Jude the Ob­scure, the grimmest?

What ad­vice do you have for as­pir­ing nov­el­ists?

Fin­ish what you’re work­ing on; don’t keep giv­ing up and be­gin­ning a new one—you learn so much just from get­ting to the end.

Do you read a lot of Asian literature?

The most im­por­tant work I have read re­cently is Pak Kyung-ni’s Korean epic, Land, trans­lated by Ag­nita Ten­nant, whose own novel, Mag­no­lia (2015) tells a per­sonal story of the Korean War.

Who do you think are the most in­ter­est­ing emerg­ing au­thors to­day?

I greatly en­joy and ad­mire the work of Adam Mars-jones, Dan Rhodes, Philip Hen­sher, He­len Simp­son, Michelle de Kretser and Elena Fer­rante. But these are all emerged rather than emerg­ing—it’s hard to keep up.

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