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