FEATURE: Interview with novelist Andrea Levy
Novelist Andrea Levy
has just released a new book, The Long Song
. After attending a City Lit class, Andrea released her first book and went on to win an Arts Council Award. Her second novel Never Far from Nowhere
was long listed for the Orange Prize. Small Island
was the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Novel Award, the Orange Best of the Best, and the Commonwealth Writer's Prize.
Taking time out of book signings and interviews with the media, Andrea Levy shares with City Lit how she was influenced by her courses and how she found success as a writer.
Q: When did you come to City Lit and what did you study?
A: I enrolled on my course with the City Lit in 1989, and continued for about seven years. It was Alison Fell’s Creative Writing class. I started with the ‘beginners’ group, and then progressed on to the continuing course.
Q: What was your background before coming to City Lit?
A: I had been to art college and trained as a weaver and textile designer. I then worked in the costume departments of the BBC and later the Royal Opera House. But then I retrained myself as a graphic designer. When I started at the City Lit I was a partner in a small graphic design studio. In fact I continued to work as part of the studio until well into my writing career (it’s always good to have something to fall back on!).
Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A: Not at all. I didn’t even read fiction until I was in well in to my twenties. If anyone had told me then that I would become a novelist I would have thought they were completely mad.
Q: What was your next step after completing your course at City Lit?
A: Well, by that time I think I was already working on my first novel. A core group of people from the City Lit course continued to meet in each other’s homes as an informal writing group, and that was invaluable for me.
Q: You said in your interview with ES that you embarked on your first novel, Every Light in the House Burning after leaving City Lit, did the course inspire you to write this novel, and if so, how?
A: The course gave me the confidence to write my first book. Listening to other people’s writing, and getting used to reading out my own and hearing people’s reaction made me realise that I had some good stories to tell.
Q: Did you find the prospect of becoming a writer scary?
A: Not really, because I never gave up the security of my ‘day job’. It was exciting and rewarding to write. Then it was a bit nerve-racking and depressing trying to get published – all those rejection letters. But I wouldn’t say it was scary. That came later when I had some success and needed to do more public appearances. Now that is scary!
Q: How did you find your voice as a writer?
A: The mantra of many creative writing courses is to begin by writing what you know. So that’s what I did. My early books were based on my memories and my own circumstances. So my narrator’s voice grew naturally out of that. But I couldn’t have done it without the City Lit. Being with other new writers, and a good tutor, gave me the confidence to experiment.
Q: Do you have any advice for students who are considering becoming writers but are worried about whether their writing will be successful?
A: Fiction writing as a career choice is a pretty risky path I suppose. It’s tough to get published, and even tougher to get noticed. But I don’t think many people approach it quite like that. I certainly don’t think I ever chose to become a writer to the exclusion of everything else – I always had a ‘plan B’ (in fact I still do!). I started writing because I enjoyed it, and because I found I had something I wanted to write about. I stuck at it for the same reasons. Commercial success came slowly and it may never have come at all. But it’s still a great creative journey to take. All you need is a pen and paper, after all. And a bit of spare time.
Q: What is your opinion on adult education?
A: Just imagine being a person who reaches their early twenties and stops learning! Adult education is not only important, it’s essential.
Q: What is the next step for you now?
A: I don’t know. Send me a prospectus and I’ll see what you’re offering.
Picture: Courtesy of Laurie Fletcher.
Story added 30th July 2010