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
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
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.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map