Q. What do you write about?
A. Food, sex, saints, death, love, memory, desire, power relationships, perversity; whatever obsesses me at a given time.
Q. How do you know what you want to write
A. I become haunted by it. I dream about it. A novel erupts from a visual image, often a dream image, often an image of a dead body.
Q. What kind of books do you write?
A. Mainly novels, poems, short stories, though I have also written two plays and one film. I am fascinated by the difference between forms. I have written a novel (Flesh and Blood) composed of short stories (all broken in half) and I have written a short story (in Playing Sardines) that in effect is a novel. Form is the crucial thing. Once you've got an idea of the form a novel will take, why it needs a particular narrative perspective, then you can get going.
Q. Do you use a computer?
A. Everything begins as ink scribble in the notebook I carry. At some point these handwritten notes for a story or novel transfer onto the computer. Up until then you can pretend you're not doing it, so that the process is unselfconscious and unanxious. Once I've properly begun, I enjoy the process of editing on screen. I print out at night what I've written during the day, because I like reading hard copy and can scribble corrections on it more easily. Poetry, however, I write in longhand on big sheets of paper. I write these out over and over, twenty versions perhaps, the poem growing a bit more each time, until it's done. I redraft a great deal. That's what writing means: rewriting.
Q. Why did you want to write?
A. Growing up bilingual, in a French-English family, I was fascinated by language and by language translating itself back and forth. Also, I wrote to invent a culture, a world, I could belong in. Catholicism was a misogynistic religion and I needed to write my way out of it. In the process, I discovered the power of making shapes with words, making new realities. My father wrote short stories, which were never published; he inspired me. My English grandmother was a great storyteller; she inspired me too. And of course Catholicism, I realised, was a great treasure trove of stories which I could re-tell. I wanted to smash up the old stories, which I felt had damaged me, and make something new with them. Omniscient narrators such as God the Father and the Pope had snared me as an object in their stories; I needed to write women in as our own subjects. Struggling heroes of our own stories. I needed a narrative perspective from down here on the ground, not up there in the sky, and I needed to create different, clashing narrative perspectives, to expose how we quarrel over what is true, what happens. I don't believe any longer in one truth. That's for religion, not for novelists. Now I think I write for other reasons too: to converse with the reader, play with and tease the reader, with luck please the reader in the end.
Q. Who or what is your muse?
A. My mother was for a long time. My father was the muse for one book (Impossible Saints). I've written books inspired by whomever I was in love with at the time. The lover, or the fantasy lover, becomes the muse for that particular book. The book then becomes the gift to the lover.
Q. What is your advice to young writers?
A. Don't give up.