Gill Hornby interview: The novelist on queen bees, rock choirs and what keeps her up at night

Hornby is a novelist whose first book, 'The Hive', was the bestselling literary hardback debut of 2013

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

I'm constantly compared to Robert Harris and Nick Hornby [her husband and brother respectively]. But what can you do? There's no way I could ever catch up with them at this point and we're not in competition with one another. I got some stick with my first book [The Hive, published in 2013), one review saying: "She even uses the same name, Hornby, and mentions that she's married to Robert Harris [in the blurb]." As if I was writing under my own name in order to get publicity! But you can't compare us as novelists: I'm upstairs writing about ladies who lunch and Robert's downstairs writing about Romans.

Middle age is so much better than youth I didn't realise you can have several bites of the cherry: here I am in my fifties and now a novelist, and in a better position to handle it: clearly I'm a late developer. When I was younger, every hour was mine, but I wasted so much of it. Now I have children and only have a certain amount of hours, I make them count in a way I never did before.

I don't read fantasy; ordinary life is compelling enough Once, at a book signing, I was talking to a woman who was terribly dull, but I carried on asking questions; we'd got to her daughter's A-level results when she said, "And then of course my son hanged himself." She went on to tell me one of the most extraordinary stories I've ever heard; it just didn't come out as a headline.

I can't be a queen bee [The Hive dealt with the politics of school-gate mothers.] I'll tell you something about being one: it's the other [worker] bees who decide you're going to be a queen bee. And if they get fed up with you being a queen bee, they sting you to death. It works in nature and it's how women work, too. But women have never responded to me in that way: as a queen bee you need energy, intuition and an inner self-confidence. If you have that, people fall in behind you.

 

When I was young, I thought neighbours were just people who lived next door And when my children were little, I lived in a bubble of being within that family. But when the family starts to spread out, the next stage is to appreciate the community around you. When my children left for university, my first thought was that I'd lie in pyjamas all day, watching TV. My community was a life-saver. I read a phrase the other day: participation is belonging. If only people put more energy into looking after one another, the world would be a better place.

I found enormous joy in joining a rock choir There has been an explosion of community choirs, and it's the human spirit replacing what the church would have given a community 100 years ago. Standing side by side with strangers once a week, singing, clapping and performing the same actions is intimate. My rock choir is a national franchise with 17,000 members. Two years ago we all played at the O2 Arena. There wasn't an audience; we were just playing the O2 to ourselves!

Singing in harmony is the perfect metaphor of a happy society Everybody is doing their bit but together they are doing something very different; the weak are carried by the strong.

Finding negatives from positives came to me with parenthood I didn't used to see danger around the corner all the time, but now, if one of my daughters is out at a club, I'll suddenly think at midnight, oh my god she's in a club and she's going to take a night bus home at 4am. Or if my son is up a mountain, I'll drive myself to distraction.

Gill Hornby, 55, is a novelist whose first book, 'The Hive', was the bestselling literary hardback debut of 2013. Her second novel, 'All Together Now' (£14.99, Little, Brown) is out now

Comments