Alison Moore interview: Here’s to that tricky second (family) album

James Kidd talks to Alison Moore about her inadvertently personal sophomore novel

Second novel syndrome is a notoriously tricky ailment. For every Ulysses, there’s DBC Pierre’s Ludmilla’s Broken English. Where Charles Dickens dashed off Oliver Twist, Harper Lee agonised for decades about following To Kill a Mockingbird. Second novels even have their own prize, the nicely named Encore.

If there is any justice Alison Moore should be in the running for this year’s award. Her sophomore effort, He Wants, is a nuanced, haunting tale of desire and repressed longing, and a very creditable successor to her quietly stellar debut, The Lighthouse, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker.

When we meet in London, 43-year-old Moore seems anything but anxious, in part because she is about to start a three-week holiday in France with her husband, Dan, and young son, Arthur, but also because she tends to be a bright, upbeat, if careful conversationalist. Despite discussing her father at some length throughout the interview, she only mentions his recent death at the very end of our conversation.

Nevertheless, Moore confesses that the prospect of emulating The Lighthouse did give her pause. “I needed to keep it very private while I was writing. It’s always tricky to talk about works-in-progress but I kept it to myself until I had worked it as far as I could.” This need for privacy even extended to the noble decision to refuse a contract until the novel was all but completed.

Admirers of The Lighthouse will doubtless spot similarities with He Wants. Both are built around isolated, middle-aged men: Futh in The Lighthouse, Lewis Sullivan in He Wants. “I am interested in the world of the loner. Perhaps loneliness is a by-product of that. I like families but also the way people are separate within that unit. The family might have one story but each person throws up quite a different picture.”

A widower who is both smothered and neglected by his daughter Ruth, Lewis’s buried narratives of tragedy and missed opportunities run beneath his otherwise unexceptional existence. These mysteries are slowly revealed through a plot that insinuates itself through recurring memories and telling details. “I feel you can either write from inside the narrative and follow your characters along, or you can be outside and it’s more like directing. I do feel very much inside it, very close to what is happening.”

Moore acknowledges the repetitive strains in her imagination, but insists she didn’t know what they were until she published The Pre-War House, the collection of short stories that bisected her two novels. “I discovered those seams and issues that writers return to. We all have a handful of things we keep circling.” The biggy, as Moore herself puts it, was absent mothers. “I don’t know how I hadn’t noticed. Mothers become lost in one way or another.”

Moore herself draws the parallels between life and art. Her own mother died in 1995. Looking back, she sees it as a time of grief but also creativity. She began writing the first of the stories she would publish about five years later.

The loss of her mother forced Moore into a new relationship with her father, who died more recently. “We had to move together. I got to know him much better and I realised how much like him I was.” Something of his “private and proper” character can be glimpsed in both Futh and Lewis. Yet, Moore is careful to stress that her own personality is just as strong an influence. “Even when I was eight I was 40 inside. I think I am drawn to these middle-aged characters because that is basically how I have always felt.”

Born in Manchester in 1971, Moore grew up in Loughborough. “I still live in the East Midlands. One thing about the Midlands is it’s very far from the sea. There used to be a pub near junction 21 called The Sea Around Us. I always liked that. The sea is around us but as far from us as it could possibly be.” Her parents, who met while working at the University of Salford, created a tight-knit family: Moore has a twin sister and a brother who is older by 20 months.

The intense nature of Moore’s fictional relationships owes something to this real-life intimacy. “Both my mum and dad came from big families, but they were very much a unit. They didn’t really seek much outside the family. It is basically what I know – these private, self-contained people.”

Moore herself sounds like the perfect daughter. “I was a family girl. I was quite good at school, quite obedient.” I ask whether, like Lewis, this propriety hid a yearning for something beyond the everyday. “What that might echo is that feeling in yourself of something very important and powerful that you want to get a hold of. I was very young when I realised there was nothing that excited me, vocationally, as much as writing did. It was always about writing.”

This literary dream was powerful enough for Moore to write throughout school, and later in her free time between admin jobs. Balancing art and life in these years wasn’t always straightforward. “For whatever reason, during my most recent job [as a PA at an arts centre], I didn’t have a big urge to write. I think it was because I had some degree of satisfaction in the same need-centre in my brain.”

Given the creative outpouring after her mother’s death, I ask whether Moore’s imagination needs some degree of unhappiness to be productive. She accepts the hypothesis, to a point. “I think they were two different things. I probably needed to write out the family dynamics after Mum died.” The purple patch that produced The Lighthouse, by contrast, followed the birth of her son and was the result of happiness and a period off work. “All that happened was that bit of my brain stopped having enough to do, so I started writing. Initially when Arthur was asleep at night. When he went to pre-school at three, I would take my laptop and work in the car or in a café.”

Today, Moore writes full-time courtesy of that Man Booker shortlisting. She has a desk in her bedroom while her husband works downstairs. Despite the odd point of conflict – mainly the volume of her husband’s music – it has proved a harmonious and productive situation. Moore has recently completed her first script for a graphic comic: about the poet Mary Howitt, who wrote The Spider and the Fly.

Before she heads across the Channel, I ask whether writing has ever provided consolation for the themes she explores so deftly – grief, loneliness, disconnection. “I think it must help in some way,” she says slowly. “It’s odd isn’t it? I have always written. So whether it actually helps or actually changes something, it’s the way I always look at things.”

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific