the sea house by esther freud
How did you come to start writing?
I started writing at Drama school when we had to invent a detailed back ground for our characters. I should have guessed then I wasn't cut out for acting when I enjoyed that part more than going on stage. Then when I left and was living and working in London I went to the City Lit once a week and did a creative writing course. But it wasn't until I was 26 that I started writing in a disciplined way, every day for three hours. That's when I started writing Hideous Kinky. By the time I'd finished it I'd fallen in love with writing, and out of love with acting. I'm still so grateful for that.
Hideous Kinky and some of your earlier work are very autobiographical. Can the same be said of The Sea House?
All my work is autobiographical in some way. The Sea House is very much about the way I feel linked to Suffolk, the way I feel a place can have a profound effect on your life.
The book has a wonderful sense of place. Is Steerborough a real place?
Steerbough is based on a village that I've visited for over 20 years. I mixed it up a bit and changed some names and landmarks, really just to give myself the freedom to invent. As a writer you don't want to be pinned down by anything too architectural, and you don't want letters telling you the chinese takeaway is by the bus stop not the chemist!
You write beautifully and cannily accurately from the point of view of children. Where do you get your inspiration from?
When I started writing Hideous Kinky I wrote it from the point of view of the child that I was when my adventure happened. I found it easier to remember it that way. The voice of the child came to me. I could hear it as I wrote. In fact it never occured to me to write it any other way. I probably find it harder to write from the point of view of adults.
The Sea House focuses on adults for the first time in your work. Does this mean you have grown up personally?
Maybe. Often your books tell you about your own developement. But I had to be quite strict with myself not to let the little girls in The Sea House, minor characters, have their own say in the story.
Did you have to do much research to prepare for the two time frames in The Sea House. How did it compare researching for the past and the present. What are the benefits of a dual timeframe approach?
World book day's theme this year is 'Recommend a Book'. Could you recommend a paperback for readers' groups?
I did quite a lot of research for the plot set in 1953. I read memoirs and personal accounts of the flood that hit that coast. I also used my grandparents letters dating back to 1918, and had to bring them forward in time, without losing the essence of them. I loved doing the research because it was all about people who seemed real to me. For the modern section I had to do very little research at all. I just put in all the thoughts and observations I'd been storing up about Suffolk for so many years.
Which authors influence you?
I was influcenced by Jean Rhys when I first started writing, particularly a book called A Voyage in the Dark. She has a very spare, elegant and truthful style and uses the emotional lives of her characters to create the plot. But my favourite authors change all the time. I never feel able to answer that question.
Old School by Tobias Wolfe has just come out in paperback. It is written with such skill it took my breath away.