An interview with Alice Sebold
As well as giving us a chance to read (or reread) some of the best works of literature from the past forty years, the advent of the Picador Classic series also seemed the perfect opportunity to ask the authors some big questions – about life and literature, their current obsessions and how times have changed.
Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, in which Susie Salmon watches her friends and family's lives go on from beyond the grave after her murder, was an instant classic and there are now over ten million copies in print. We asked Sebold about her favourite film, her greatest piece of luck, and what she believes happens to us when we die.
What was the last thing you wrote in your notebook?
Where in the world do you find yourself returning to and why?
There is a bench hidden on a hilly pathway about ten minutes from my house. You can’t see it until you come upon it.
Tell us your favourite poem.
I don’t have a favorite poem but Bishop and Larkin are hard to beat. Among the living, I find myself returning to Marie Howe, Wislawa Szymborska, James Tate.
What are you currently obsessed with?
Scrolling through German Shepherd rescue sites. I am obsessed with Shiloh Shepherds. My ex-husband and I ended up adopting one from a shelter in Los Angeles, not knowing how sweet and wonderful their personalities were. It was like living with an angel who, if needed, could turn around and scare the bejesus out of a methhead.
What are you going to read next?
I just read a book coming out here [in the States] in the spring called After Birth by Elisa Albert. I knew nothing about her and got sent the book in a stack of others. The language, the humor, the rigor and muscle of the voice….So I’m going to buy her previous novel and her story collection and devour them. Right now I have a biography of Maria Callas going.
Which writing do you find yourself returning to and why?
In my own writing and in terms of forms, I’d say poems. I write them as a private discipline. Poetry can be very raw emotionally but not read raw. It really is the ultimate form.
What happens to us when we die?
We cease. I’ve never thought anything other than this but this isn’t negative to me. Perhaps our spirits blend into the ether, but that’s beside the point somehow. A beautiful thought, but beside the point.
What’s your favourite fairytale or children’s book?
The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Hans Christian Anderson.
Tell us about the best blog or Twitter account.
I'm not much of a net person. I find it overstimulating somehow. Also I need the physical object in my hands. I print out anything longer than a few paragraphs before I read. I know I'm missing out in many ways but I accept that.
What’s your favourite film?
Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman.
And your favourite music or music genre?
I just discovered Natalie Stutzman so I’m in love with her at the moment but I have no favorite genre. I’m highly suggestible so I’ll cross to the street to listen to just about anything and see what’s there for me. Hardening into one specific genre of anything is dangerous, I think.
Tell us the first thing you do in the morning.
Read a poem or two from the going volume by the bed. Move the cat. Make an espresso.
And the last thing you do at night.
Draw the curtains. Move the cat.
What was the last book that made you cry?
A reread actually. Paul Robeson by Martin Bauml Duberman.
One book you wish you had written.
I’ll stick with biography here because a good biographer who does his subject justice is like a god to me. Blake Bailey’s biography of the writer Richard Yates or Patricia Albers’s biography of the painter Joan Mitchell.
Three things you would want on a desert island.
Poetry, a Shiloh Shepherd, and to save myself the worst of the inevitable, a vial of strong poison.
What continues to inspire you?
What was your greatest piece of luck?
Not dying young.
What’s the worst or most unusual job you’ve had?
I’ve had two different jobs where I worked with toxic fumes in spaces without ventilation. One was in the basement of a former prison and one was in an attic of an old building. I passed out more than once and suffered headaches and vision issues. Strangely though, certain catering jobs also come to mind. The words 'leek soup' make me shiver still.
>>READ THE FIRST CHAPTER OF THE LOVELY BONES
The Lovely Bones (Picador Classic edition) is introduced by Karen Thompson Walker.