Cheltenham Q & A - Rachel Joyce

Posted on 5th October 2015 by Rachel Joyce
Waterstones exclusive: Rachel Joyce answers our seven questions.

We here at Waterstones put our heads together and came up with seven snappy author questions and put them to the authors appearing at Cheltenham Literature Festival (which runs from the 2nd - 11th October). The result? Read for yourself.

Seventh in the series: Rachel Joyce.

Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her second novel, Perfect, was published in July 2013 to great critical acclaim. She was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012. Rachel has also written A Faraway Smell of Lemon, a short story exclusive to ebook. She appears at The Times and the Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on Thursday 8 October 4pm - 5pm to discuss her latest book, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, which is out now.


What book do you wish that you had written?

I tend to wish I had written most things. It's a very bad habit. When I was ten I physically ached because Daisy Ashton had written her first novel at the age of nine and all I had to my name were a few limericks and some rhyming couplets. 

Just as your books inspire readers, what authors inspired you to write?

I have always wanted to write. It is a part of who I am. I am always interested in reading about the process for other writers and it seems to me that it involves a lot of hard work and failure. It inspires me when people admit those things.

Once you've had the initial idea for a book, do you create the plot first or do you begin writing straight away, looking to discover the story and characters along the way?

I begin writing straight away because that is how I find my story and my characters. I write far too much. I make lots of blunders. I go down endless blind alleys. But a plan for me feels like sitting outside the story, whereas I need to burrow inside it. I always know my beginning and my end, though, and I work out a few key shift points along the way.

Do you read your reviews? How do you respond to them, good or bad? Any advice on how to deal with the bad?

I read them sometimes, not always. They can be hurtful but they can also be insightful. It is never easy to accept criticism and it is especially hard because a book is so personal; you wouldn’t let it go unless you believed in it. But like most things, the sting passes.

If you were trapped on a desert island, which two books would you want to have with you and why?

I would cheat and take a hefty book that might double up as a stool. I’d probably take an incredibly detailed dictionary of flora and fauna. I get a lot of pleasure identifying plants and learning their uses – and I might find out what to eat and what to avoid. I’d also have The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I was brought up watching and reading his plays and I have been lucky enough to act in them. As I grow older and speak the words, I hear new things. 

Who else do you wish to see while at the Cheltenham festival?

I have already booked to see James Rhodes and Julian Barnes. I am going with my husband to a talk about the letters between Jung and Neumann. I’d love to see Anne Enright, Robert Macfarlane, Pat Barker, Ali Smith.. There are many. In a perfect world, I would set up a small tent and go to everything.

What was the last book you read?

Keeping an Eye Open by Julian Barnes.


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