When God Was a Rabbit is your first novel. Can you tell us a bit about the process of becoming a first time author?
There was no great moment of swapping the spoken word for the written word. I had been acting for 23 years and had always written, but mainly in script form. Then about six years ago, life began to radically change. Amongst other things, I felt disillusioned by acting and the profession, and my creative life needed a shot of joy: I needed to do something without the weight of expectation, without the need to earn a living – art for art’s sake, so to speak. I enrolled in an adult education centre called City Lit and took two terms in a basic fiction course called Exploring Fiction. By the second term I was half way through a first novel. Although this novel wasn’t published it secured a relationship with a wonderful literary agent, and got very good feedback from publishers. The whole experience was affirming and encouraging. By the time the last ‘not this time’ letter came through, I was well into writing When God was a Rabbit. It took 2 ½ years to write and about five drafts. I handed it to my agent in December 2009 and he sent it out. By the middle of April 2010, we had interest. It was sold on the 19th April to Headline Review. And here we are.
As an actress and a writer, where do you look for inspiration in your crafts? Do you find inspiration from the same place for both acting and writing?
Yes, there’s no difference to me between the craft of acting and writing – the source is the same, the end result is the same – the authenticity of storytelling. I am nonetheless hugely inspired by cinema, and it is my first love. Even today I get the same churn of excitement as I wait for a film to start. The joy of reading came quite late to me as an adult. But a photograph, painting, a piece of music, a landscape – all can inspire and sow the seed of narrative; that wonderful moment when a character takes hold of your thoughts and illuminates another world.
If When God Was a Rabbit was to be filmed, who would you cast in the roles of Elly, Joe and Jenny?
There is a lovely English actress called Ruth Wilson, and I think she’d be pretty perfect for Elly. Jenny is harder to place because I’m not sure how much of her as an adult might be revealed in a screenplay. We might just get glimpses – a voice at times – until her emergence at the end. So I think it’s relatively a small part, albeit hugely important. That might put some actresses off. I think Anna Maxwell Martin would carry it off amazingly well. Joe? Mmmm… Suggestions please!
What is your next creative project? Can we expect a second novel soon?
Unfortunately not soon. I have started another novel but it is very early days. I have given myself 2 years to write it, just under the time it took for me to write Rabbit. Rabbit and the first novel were written back to back, so I needed to take a little time off to recharge and to listen to the new story that wants to emerge. But I am getting to know the characters and feel excited by them. I’m looking forward to the journey they’re about to take me on.
What are you reading now?
I was very lucky to be given the proofs of two debut novelists like myself – The Tenderloin by the Irish writer John Butler, and Australian writer Favel Parrett’s Past The Shallows – two fantastic books coming out over the next couple of months. I’m in ‘Greeneland’ at the moment, having just finished Brighton Rock. I am about to embark on An Affair to Remember. What an effortless, exciting writer Mr Greene is; I am learning so much from him. I have also started to re-read Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and T.S Eliot’s The Four Quartets. Both books require time and quiet, and uncluttered thought: a slow but beautiful process. More Elizabeth Bowen after that.