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Gerard Woodward
You have written award-winning collections of poetry. Where does the poet go when the novelist comes out to play?
He stays around, I hope, and helps me with writing the novel, though he is, of course, very frustrated that he is not getting as much time as he’d like to write actual poems. He builds up a store of observations, thoughts, memories and ideas that are full of poem potential, then waits till the novelist has had enough of writing prose, or has finished a draft of his novel, and then gets him to try and write some of these poems.
You ended up writing a trilogy about the Jones family (AUGUST, I’LL GO TO BED AT NOON and A CURIOUS EARTH). Did you find yourself equally attached to characters in NOURISHMENT and might we expect another instalment of Tory’s story?
It is possible, there is a story there about Tory and Branson that I would like to follow, though I don’t feel the same urgency to write about them as I did with the Jones family, so I’ve no immediate plans to write a follow up novel, but maybe in the future, when I’ve run out of other ideas for novels…who knows?
In Lucy Beresford’s review of NOURISHMENT, she says your best subject is ‘home’. It seems to be the central subject of your novels so far and you do it very well. Is it where your heart is?
Well, in some ways, though I often feel my heart is nomadic and belongs to no home at all. I am still recovering from the shock of not being able to live in the house I grew up in, and which I left behind over thirty years ago. Everything since then has felt temporary and fragile, and possessed of an innate, Larkin-like sadness. I once owned a house but it ruined me financially. I’ve lived since under the feudal regimes of various tyrannical landladies and landlords, and am now a tenant of a university, but they are going to demolish my house soon (how appropriate). Then again, ‘home’ can be quite an abstract thing, with little attachment to buildings at all. So part of my writing is an attempt to deal with those feelings, yes.
As a teacher of creative writing, who do you recommend your students read?
It depends very much on their writing, and where they are with it. First year undergraduates are made to read as widely as possible, from Tristram Shandy to Len Deighton (both of whom feature on my list of set texts for year 1 prose fiction). As they develop as writers they identify other writers whose work they find permission-giving, inspiring, awesome, or whatever, they become experts in those writers, and then begin to understand a little more about what sort of writer they might be. With postgraduate students it is a little different, but very few people are as widely read as they like to think they are, so there is still a lot of room for experiment and exploration in reading at that level. However, having said that, I think all prose writers should read as much poetry as they can – it surprises and horrifies me how resistant some people are to the idea of reading poetry, even people who otherwise have sophisticated reading and writing skills.
Tory remembers her husband treating her “like an awkward corner of a room that needed sanding and papering”. We, too, have occasionally experienced the B & Q approach to sex and were struck by how well you write about your women characters’ feelings. Is that because you’re a good listener?
I hope so. A big part of writing fiction is about trying to see the world from other people’s viewpoints, and that entails a lot of observing and a lot of imagining. I don’t know if I have any special skill as a writer of female viewpoints, but I’m told that I have, and so am glad about that. The sort of writers that interest me at the moment are the ones with something to say about human psychology, and they quite often tend to be women; George Eliot, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Bowen, Jean Rhys. Male writers so often seem to miss the point and get the psychology so laughably wrong. Not all of them, of course.
You seem to be always the bridesmaid when it comes to literary prizes (shortlisted for the Whitbread, Booker and T S Eliot twice). Are you more irritated, disappointed or pleased by your close misses?
Pleased more than anything. It is far better to be shortlisted than not. Disappointment would only figure if I expected to win, which I don’t – but then you feel disappointed on behalf of colleagues and friends whose expectations seem higher. Irritation comes from people harping on about prizes all the time – they are necessary and add to the fun of things, but they shouldn’t be a means by which we define writers.
Gerard Woodward

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