Q: The word seems to be that
the success of "Miss Garnet's Angel" was unpredictable
and caused by word-of-mouth. Did it surprise you - it
sort of sneaked up on
SV: I was pleasntly surprised
that the book caught on as it did, because the book
trade, at the time, was mostly only selling books about
the young and beautiful (and Julia garnet is neither);
but I wasn't so surprised when - thanks to some key
booksellers who got behind the book; booksellers are
the unsung heroes and heroines of the trade - that people
liked it once they had heard of it as I think that there
is a big gap between the true tastes of readers and
what the book trade currently believes people like to
read. My books are about serious subjects but, I hope,
are easily absorbed on a number of levels and I think
this is what makes them sell as they do.
Q: How much of you and your
travels was there in "Miss Garnet's Angel"?
SV: Well, I am a great Venice
fan, obviously, and know Venice pretty well. As to how
much of me there is in the novel - all my characters
(including the disagreeable ones) are reflections or
explorations of aspects of myself - but there is very
little straight autobiography in any of my books to
date. Apart from the experience of Venice as a transforming
one, the only autobiographical element in "Miss
Garnet" is that I was brought up in the Communist
Party - which is why I know what Miss Garnet's pre-Venice,
atheistic pseudo-rational self was like
Q: How hard was it to write
the difficult second book, "Instances of the Number
Three"? It seemed a lot darker, dealing with death
SV: I enjoyed writing "Instances"
and have a special affection for it because of my love
of Shakespeare and ghost stories - and this is a modern
ghost story as well as other things. I think all my
books have a "dark" component - but I hope
the dark is balanced by the light - I believe too much
of either is unreal.
Q: This is not a criticism at
all – but would you see your style at as
anachronistic? I certainly see that in some of your
passages? IF so - even
if NOT - what is the roots of that writing style?
SV: I'm not sure what you mean
by "anachronistic" - if you mean that it is
not the contemporary style I would agree with you -
but it is, at least, my own style - I hope generally
lucid but with a varied vocabulary and often tinged
with a faint irony. though by no means all the time.
As for how it was formed, see the next question.
Q: I read somewhere that you
were keen to maintain "crushingly high standards"in
writing. How would you define that - and who is the
SV: No, I said that I grew up
reading Jane Austen, George Eliot, Conrad Henry James
and that these, my four favourite writers, gave me "crushingly
high standards" which is why I took some time to
come to writing myself amd to forming my own prose style.
Q: Strange career move - going
from being a teacher of English to becoming an analytical
psychologist? What prompted such a severe change in
SV: I always wanted to be a
psychanalyst and I can prove that becuase when I was
interviewed, aged not quite eleven, for St Paul's Girls'
scool (to which I got a state scholarship), and was
asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered
"a psychoanalyst". There was an audible intake
of breath. I was already a voracious reader and had
just read "Mine Own Excecutioner" by Nigel
Balchin, which is about a psychoanalyst. The title comes
from one of John Donne's devotions and it was Balchin,
in fact, who also introduced me to Donne who, with Herbert,
is my favourite poet. Donne, Herbert, Shaespeare, Jane
Austen, George Eliot, Dostoevsky Henry James - these
are the great psychologists - far greater than Freud
or Klein or Jung.
Q: I guess in a way, you were
moving out of the world of fiction and into the
real world. How did you cope with dealing with very
real problems? It’s not
like a book where a stroke of a pen can fix anything!
SV: The chief - perhaps only
- "cure' in analysis is the other's understanding.
In that sense literature and human psychology have much
in common. I feel I bring to my characters the understanding
I tried to bring to mypatients - no doubt about equally
as succesfully or otherwise!
Q: Did you find it hard to stay
detached in dealing with clients? I know from
personal experience that these things can be taken home,
in spite of best
intentions to leave work in the office?
SV: I've stopped working as
an analyst largely because in the end I think it can
burn you out. I was quite ill for much of last year
- and had some big life events to cope with on top of
that - so I felt the time had arrived to stop dealing
with people and stick to writing about them. I miss
the dialogues with my patients - there is no relationship
quite like it - but I don't miss the sense of responsiblity,
which can be taxing.
Q: You came to the belief that
the creative arts are more use to people that
psychology. Please explain.
SV: Well, see my earlier answer
- great writing is always also great psychology. But
I think what I said was that art was more important
ib the end than psychological theory and certianly it's
more entertaining, which I think also matters. I've
always believed that creativity is the key to fulfillment.
I think the arts matter because they nourish, or should
nourish, the emotions as well as stretching the mind.
And a good work of art also promotes a creative response
in the the other. A good book has value because it helps
us to percieve values which challenge or augment our
own - but it is also a great solace and antidote to
the, in my view, quintessential loneliness of being
Q: Your bio points to connections
between literature, psychology and religion.
What are they? Aren’t you an atheist? How does
that affect your writing?
SV: Heavens! Whatever makes
you think I'm an atheist? I may not be formally religious
but I believe that higher dimensions unquestionably
exist and make thmeselves felt, both within and without
human consciousness and that our psyche includes a crucial
"spiritual' (though I dislike the way that word
has been highjacked) dimension, though that can - and
often does - take the form of an anti God humanism.
I often quote Christopher Isherwood's remark that he
beleievd in God but hated the sort of people who did.
Well, I don't "hate" the sort of people who
who do but I often hate what they do in the name of
their so-called "gods", which are usually
just a projection of their own sense of moral righteousness
- and, moral righteousness, as Mr Golightly will attest
to, is a very dodgy thing indeed, most ungodly, in my
view. That, i.e.the desire to avoid moral righteousness
has influenced my writing
Q: On to your new book. Once
again, there is something of an element of a travel
bug being exercised here. Would you say that the delights
of travel are
prevalent in your work as an ongoing influence? Your
obvious love of Venice
for instance ...
SV: Because I flit about so
much my friends call me a bird (I am drawn to birds
which is why there are many in "Mr Golightly's
Holiday"), so I suppose a liking for travel is
inherent in my make-up. But in fact here "holiday"
is used deliberately because of the word's origins -
and also becuase holidays are creative times when we
take stock and reassess, which is what the eponymous
Mr Golighty does on his, literal, re-creational holiday.
He goes away to re-create his orginal creation and finds
that it has its own ways of recreating itself.
Q: "Mr Golightly's Holiday"
is a title that evokes that traditional British
literary lightness of touch within the covers. Did you
want to go in that
direction after Instances of the Number Three?
SV: I never plan my books and
I doubt that I have any preconceived "direction".
The idea, as I describe in the Author's Note at the
end of the book, came to me during a period of darkness.
Although I hope the book has a light touch it is in
fact a deeply serious book, about key issues of life
and death and free will and creativity. But often weighty
matters are better approached through a comedic slant,
though here one is in danger of being dismissed as merely
"light" rather thsan "light of touch".
I don't believe comedy is less serious or profound than
tragedy; it is merely another art form.