Louise Doughty interview: The bestselling novelist on her Romany history, and drinking with the Brontës

Doughty is the author of seven novels, including the Costa-shortlisted 'Whatever You Love' and 'Apple Tree Yard'

Adam Jacques
Saturday 09 January 2016 02:54
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Most offices are like 'Macbeth' They are a hotbed of desire, deceit, blackmail and murderous thoughts. People think of power struggles as grand things, like politicians stabbing each other in the back. But I'm a great believer in how extraordinary things happen in ordinary lives: even in the most ordinary office you get a daily power struggle over who gets the best mug when coffee is being made. Sitcom TV has dealt well with that issue, fiction less so. When I published my debut [Crazy Paving] in 1995, about a group of secretaries, it was considered quite radical.

Commuting is pure chaos theory Particularly in London, where you make a small decision to go in one direction and then perhaps you're on a bus that gets involved in an accident. Millions of commuters all over London are having these amazing random experiences, but such day-to-day happenings are still hugely neglected in publishing; I'm just not interested in books about people who run art galleries or people in north London who have dinner parties and affairs.

My father never wanted me to talk about my Romany background I'm proud of it and, to me, our history is endlessly fascinating, but he used to say, "You've got two children to think of – you want to be careful about what you say; you'll get a brick through the window." When he was growing up in working-class Peterborough in the 1930s, you probably would have got that sort of treatment if you talked about being Romany. So to his dying day he was frightened for me. Much has changed, but even now, every time I write about Romany issues, I get online abuse – the racist hate mail floods in.

The next Ian Rankin could slip through our fingers It was novel number seven that was my best seller by a mile: Apple Tree Yard [published in 2013, the thriller is currently being adapted into a BBC TV mini-series, airing later this year]. It outsold all my previous books put together by a long way. Ian Rankin said that it was book number 12 which was his breakthrough, while Hilary Mantel's early works went out of print until Wolf Hall brought them back into play. Professional authors who've been at it for decades are more likely to pull a rabbit out of a hat given the chance to publish. But the industry wants new faces and debut writers, so I know a lot of author friends my age who have been dropped.

I understand why people mythologise and fall in love with Bali I went to the Ubud [readers and writers] festival there in 2012, and I can see why it's a byword for tropical paradise. I'm not a fan of the eat, pray, knit your own spirituality thing, but getting up at dawn and hearing all the sounds [of nature], before watching the sun rise over a valley is the most unbelievable experience.

The Bronte Sisters would make brilliant drinking partners They would need to leave their drunken sod of a brother at home, though; he was probably an awful bore who resented his sisters' success. I think they'd be generally interesting and eccentric. With all that running around the moors and living in parsonages, how could they not be?

Long, hot baths with candles are important They're one of the few things I do that are utterly unproductive. I pickle myself, meditate and let everything float away. Other than that, there's never a time in the day when I'm not thinking about my work or sorting things out for the kids.

Louise Doughty, 52, is the author of seven novels, including the Costa-shortlisted 'Whatever You Love' and 'Apple Tree Yard'. She is a judge of this year's Costa Book Awards; the winner will be announced on 26 January (costabookawards.com)

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