Your first novel, Under the Skin, came out in 2000, didn't it?
Which is quite recent, considering the size of this new novel.
Well, I've put out five books in three years.
That's a lot. Stuck in that room with your records.
There was one point when I was working 12 to 14 hours a day, staring at a PC screen seven days a week. It's not healthy. But I did get a lot of work done.
Listening to Krautrock?
The commonest response that we get to the book is, when people see it, they think: No way, it's too big and I don't like long books and life is too short. Just at the sight of it. And then when they start reading it, before they know it they're at the end and they're like: Is that all there is? I could have had more of that.
Earlier you said: I think Sugar is going to be all right. As though you'd given thought to where she might end up. Does that mean you're toying with the idea of a sequel?
I wouldn't write a sequel, as such. But I'm toying with the idea of writing a novel set around the time of one of World Wars in the 20th century. I quite like the idea of having Sophie in it. By the time of the first World War she'd be in her 30s or something and by the Second World War she'd be a very elderly lady. And I like the idea of having this character who you know a bit -- because you knew her when she was a little girl -- but then all this time has passed that you know nothing about and then you meet her in a different century. And Sophie would have memories so you'd learn something about Sugar, but I don't know how much.
Are you working on anything now?
I'm not working on that book. I'm just thinking about it. The main thing I want to do in the next six months or so is relax and space out, play lots of music and not feel pressured to do anything. The next book will be a collection of short stories. But I've written five books in three years and I've had a lot of contact with the rest of the world which is unusual for me, because I'm such a loner. And as a result of the success of my books I've been doing lots of interviews and traveling a lot, meeting lots of new people. Because I'm basically a hermit, that's very difficult for me to digest. It takes me ages to process all that. So I feel I need a long space where I'm not actually doing interviews or working on anything that has a deadline. I want to take some time off.
But the next book that will come out will be a book of short stories. I don't know how long it will take. I've already got enough short stories for another collection. And they're very strong short stories but a lot of them have a really dark, unsettling side to them. One of the stories which I'm sure will go into the collection is the postpartum depression story. It affects women who've had postpartum depression very, very deeply. And there's a lot of stories that are powerful in that way. But I don't want the whole collection to have that same spirit hanging over it. I want there to be gentler stories in it as well and stories that are funny and lightspirited. So I want to make sure that I've written a few more of those by the time I'm ready to pull the collection together.
My first collection, Some Rain Must Fall, was very varied. Some of the reviews of that book said it was like the work of 15 different writers, each submitting their best short story and it being published in an anthology. It is very, very, various. And I like that. And I'd like the next collection to be similarly varied.
Yet, for your longer work, you seem to be drawn to the historical. Are you?
No. The Crimson Petal and the White is the only historical novel I've written.
But you're planning on another.
Well, the 20th century is only historical because for the last three years or so it's been over.
I tend to think of things written now but set in 1980s as being historical, in a way. Because we're looking back from here at the way a time was. And writing it in a way that touches people.
Well, I did write [an unpublished] book set in the 1980s called A Photograph of Jesus. And, you're right: it is historical now. And yet, in another way, it's such a short time ago.
In the 80s, a lot of writers were looking back at the 60s in a historical way because there were so many catalysts for change. And that was only 20 years before. And now we're looking back 20 years, again, at all the shoulder pads and mousse.
Well, you say shoulder pads and mousse and, of course, that was a feature of the 1980s, but in another way history has already been distorted and rewritten because there were a lot of very passionate ideological movements during the 80s. There was more mass protest about things like nuclear disarmament in the 80s than in the 60s. But in the 60s all that stuff was considered terribly newsworthy because it was new and there were naked people with flowers and so on. Whereas, by the 80s, I think people just decided that decade was going to be labeled the "me decade" and it was going to be about shoulder pads and mousse. So anything that didn't fit that was considered, you know, not newsworthy, not notable.
I'm constantly discovering weird things like, there were so many hippie communes during the 80s that were actually functioning, actually working, in ways they had failed to work in the 60s. But, again, these people were totally ignored. They just weren't considered where it's at. I think one of the nice things about the way I've approached history in The Crimson Petal is that I've focused on things which you don't necessarily think of as being part of that age. But everything has always happened to everybody. Forever. So it's all there.