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Stella Duffy Interview

Posted on 08 March 2004. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Stella Duffy, author of eight novels, whose work also features in the recently-launched Velocity anthology, published by Black Spring Press and reviewed on WriteWords.

Tell us something about your background.

I've written eight novels. The latest, State of Happiness, was published by Virago in January 2004 and has been optioned for a feature film. The others are Singling Out The Couples, Eating Cake and Immaculate Conceit, published by Sceptre; and four crime novels Calendar Girl, Wavewalker, Beneath The Blonde and Fresh Flesh, published by Serpent's Tail. With the National Youth Theatre I adapted the stage version of Immaculate Conceit for the Lyric Hammersmith in summer 2003. My novels have been published in the USA, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Japan and Russia. With Lauren Henderson, I am co-editor of the anthology Tart Noir from which her short story Martha Grace won the CWA Short Story Dagger Award 2002. I've published over twenty short stories, feature articles for Elle, Marie Claire, Red, The Independent, The Guardian and The Times, and also write and perform for radio and theatre.

How did you start writing?

I started writing as a child - poems, little plays for friends & to perform … but I always believed that only 'posh' people were writers - ie. not anyone like me! I was the first person in my family to go to university and it was assumed that I would become a teacher or, if I was really clever, a lawyer. The idea that someone from my sort of background could be a writer (or what I initially became, an actor) was simply not thought of. In the first place I wrote to create work for myself and other performers. Then, when I finally had access to a computer (a old Amstrad - it took seven hours to print the first novel!!) I wrote my first novel. Mostly in single chapter chunks and usually at three in the morning whenever I had the time or an idea … I have never understood why people take time off or go away to write their first book - it seems like putting an awful lot of pressure on yourself when you don't yet know if it’s something you can do.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

People who play with words, value words, play with form, and write good, real characters. I am far more interested in character than plot, though I do realise a good book needs both! A huge array of writers : Janet Frame (read the novels!! not just the autobiography), Margaret Atwood, Shakespeare, Marge Piercy, Jeanette Winterson, Russell Hoban, Patricia Grace, Armisted Maupin, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickenson, Tennessee Williams.

How did you get your agent and first publisher/commission?

I waited until I had finished the first draft of my first novel, wrote off to several agents, was taken on by one. She sent the completed manuscript to several publishers. One of them bought it. There were also rejections. I think that's pretty standard.

What was your breathrough moment?

When I was fifteen, my old school friend's big brother came to our school with a touring theatre company - he was from my background, his father worked in the timber mill where my Dad worked … and yet he was being an 'artist' for his living. He made me think it might be possible for me to do the same.

What's the worst thing about writing?

Having to keep going when I’d like to just write A … C ….P … and then Z, but have to fill in the gaps.

And the best?

The four or five sentences in a completed piece of work that actually are as lovely as they had been in my head. I find that the best of my work is maybe 50% of the perfect idea I had before I started to write it down!

Tell us about what kind of response you get from audiences/readers

Good usually. I like readings, as a performer it is important to mw that the work sounds as good in the mouth as it does on the page. I rehearse readings too - I think many writers don't pay enough attention to the needs of their audience when they read.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

roovacrag at 12:55 on 08 March 2004  Report this post
Great interview.
I agree ,Left in bottom drawers never get published.
I'ts hard when work keeps coming back and you think "why do I bother"
I've done it. Which is why i encourage young as well as old to keep trying.
Thank you for this .
xx Alice

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