Financial Times Magazine: April 30th, 2004
Julie Myerson admits to occasionally suffering from book fatigue. As a novelist, journalist and critic – and a regular on Newsnight Review – the books tend to pile up by her bedside. “I sometimes ignore them and read Vogue instead,” she says. “I have a complete weakness for glossy magazines.”
Usually, though, she devours books – and not only for her work. She is currently judging the Betty Trask Award for a first novel and is enthused about Louise Dean’s Becoming Strangers: “It’s fantastic. I’m as excited to discover a book like this as to read the latest Booker Prize-winner.”
When she was planning her own fictional debut, Sleepwalking, Myerson made a point of only reading first novels. “I didn’t want to read writers who had ‘moved on’.
I read Esther Freud’s Hideous Kinky and it was so good that I felt very competitive.” The two are now good friends and researched and wrote their fifth novels at the same time – both are set in Suffolk where they each have second homes.
Growing up in Nottingham, Myerson was the first in her family not to leave school at 16. She distinctly remembers enjoying the Janet and John books.
“I saw one in a shop the other day and my tummy flipped over. I remember loving those three or four words each on a page in big black letters.”
As a teenager, Myerson would visit her local library every week and take out six books. She would read them all and return for six more.
One in particular left an impression. “It was called The Victorian Photograph I think, and it was scary, very creepy. I realised later that it had influenced my writing.”
Myerson’s latest novel, Something Might Happen, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize, deals with a gruesome murder in a sleepy seaside town and its effect on two families.
Myerson favours contemporary fiction, and American authors take precedence. She cites John Updike, Paul Auster and Philip Roth as particular favourites – “such complex books, but I like books that I don’t fully understand.
It goes with me being impatient. I don’t like knowing what’s coming. That’s probably why I try to write surprises”.
Neither does she have much time for contemporary British women writers. She won’t name names but is disdainful of “all those self-absorbed novels that explore the ‘nothing pasts’ of their characters.
I want a proper plot”. She concedes, however, that when she started writing she took exactly the same approach.
If she had the time, Myerson would read more non-fiction. “I would read biographies of important people from the past 100 years.”
With her latest book Myerson has herself tackled non- fiction and, in effect, written a biography: the biography of her house.
Home: the Story of Everyone who Ever Lived in our House delves into the lives of all the inhabitants of her London home.
Her months of research at family record offices and local council archives uncovered abandoned children, royal servants and bigamous marriages.
It also revealed that the first owner of her house was a writer and journalist, like Myerson, with three children who were exactly the same age as Myerson’s children when she made the discovery.
A somewhat eerie revelation that one senses would be deeply satisfying to this lover of surprises.
WHAT’S ON THE SHELF
South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
“This is haunting and wonderful. He writes about normal, middle-class Japanese people and about tragedy and loss, but with humour. There is a lot of ambiguity, which I like.”
On Green Dolphin Street by Sebastian Faulks
“I would give anything to have written a book like this.”
Manage Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide: by Gillian Butler and Tony Hope
“This kept me from going into therapy when I had three young children and was constantly anxious, scared of flying and a hypochondriac. It helped me to control my powerful imagination.”
Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier
“I re-read this recently thinking it wouldn’t stand up. But it does. It changed my life as a teenager – confirming every suspicion about falling in love and romance. It perplexes me more now as an adult.”