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Jane Smiley
How much of Margaret’s life was shaped by early trauma?
I think that’s for the reader to decide. When there are early traumas, the exact way in which they shape someone is hard to assess, because there’s no “control”, as in an experiment. But I think it’s pretty clear that the family policy of “getting on with it’” and “looking on the bright side” takes a toll on Margaret’s ability to grapple with later crises.
Andrew’s astronomical theories are very convincing, is he based on a real person?
Yes, he is based on my great-uncle, Thomas J.J. See, who was, if anything, even more ego-maniacal and energetic than Andrew. He can still be found on the web.
You obviously did a lot of research for PRIVATE LIFE but you show great restraint in its usage so the reader doesn’t feel overwhelmed or “instructed” by it. Is it tempting (as some other writers do!) to cram as much of your research into the book as possible?
First you cram it in, then, when you are accustomed to it, it informs your worldview, and you start taking things out.
Your books cover a whole range of subject matter and genre. Your versatility is admirable. We wondered how, given the success of A THOUSAND ACRES, you manage to resist pressure to produce more of the same?
There isn’t really more of the same to produce. A THOUSAND ACRES, especially, is a one-off. But I am tempted by the pleasures of series books--both kids’ series and grown-ups series (such as Trollope’s BARCHESTER books or IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME. So I have written three volumes of a horse series (in the UK, the first is called NOBODY’S HORSE) and the first volume of a trilogy about American life in the 20th century.
Although you are among many brilliant women writers in the US, it seems that they rarely emerge from the shadow of the 'heavyweights' - Roth, Updike, Ford, etc. Why do you think that is? Do you think a women-only award, like the Orange prize, might help redress the balance?
They emerge for readers, but not for critics. Women writers in the US have many readers, but the critics and academics who decide who is important are drawn more to their own peers. A study was done some years ago about the reading habits of boys and girls. Girls read books by both sexes about equally, boys read only books by men. The same principle obtains for critics and academics. Women win lots of awards--I do not think the proliferation of awards is a good thing in general. I also think that contemporary English literature is a boys’ club (Rushdie, Amis, McEwan, etc) but if women are the readers, women writers will get read.
Who are your inspirations?
If you mean writers, then I have great loves--Austen, Eliot, Trollope, Zola--but my inspirations are more inchoate than that--ideas, snippets form the newspaper, things the horses do, conversations, things I see or overhear.
Jane Smiley

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