Sarah Churchwell, biographer: 'F. Scott Fitzgerald bridges romantic idealism and clear-sighted wisdom'


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Where are you now and what can you see?

I'm in my living room, looking at the corner that until a few days ago held a Christmas tree.

What are you currently reading?

What Henry James Knew, a collection of essays by Cynthia Ozick. She's known primarily as a novelist but she's also one of our best living literary critics and ridiculously under-appreciated.

Choose a favourite author and say why you admire her/him

F. Scott Fitzgerald. I wrote a whole book explaining why I admire him! In brief, I love his surprising lyricism, his almost perfect ear for language and the arc in his work bridging romantic idealism and clear-sighted wisdom.

Describe the room where you usually write

I am very lucky to have an office with nice bright windows and lots of books. It makes me want to write, which is a helpful kind of room for a writer to have.

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Maybe I'm a bit like Maria Gostrey in Henry James's The Ambassadors? I'm an American expat who shares her sense of humour and value system, at any rate.

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be inspired by Malala, her courage and generosity and determination. But there are many people I admire. The answer for me is akin to Hemingway's notion of grace under pressure. I don't demand grace, but I want people to rise to the occasion. We have such low standards these days.

Sarah Churchwell is joint winner of the 2015 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence award. Her book, 'Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of the Great Gatsby' is out in paperback (Virago)