Love and Friendship

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Back in the 1990s, when I began to work for the Royal Society of Literature, I suddenly found myself surrounded by writers I’d admired for years, but never dreamt I’d meet – Sybille Bedford, John Mortimer, Hilary Mantel, Victoria Glendinning, Penelope Fitzgerald. I can’t remember the exact occasion on which I was first introduced to Rose Tremain, but I do remember feeling a little apprehensive. Not only was she a novelist whose work I loved, she was also very beautiful. I needn’t have worried. She was, from the start, friendly, natural, wickedly good-humoured and warm – such good company, in fact, that I was, at first, a little disappointed that she wanted to conduct this interview by email. Then I realized that this was an act of generosity. ‘It’s much more possible for me to get really interesting ideas and explorations going,’ she explained, ‘if I can write them down.’

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One summer’s evening, at the age of 13 or 14, Rose Tremain had what she describes as ‘an epiphany’. She had been playing tennis with friends at school, but was alone, when she was overcome with the certainty that writing was ‘the only thing I wanted to do’; that her life would be half-lived if not devoted to words. It would be quite a while before she was able to live out this conviction – when her first novel was published she was in her early thirties – but in the fullness of time Rose Tremain was to become one of the most prolific and best-loved novelists of her generation, winner
of a host of prizes, including the Orange, the Whitbread and the James Tait Black. ‘She’s a true stylist,’ Ian McEwan says of her. ‘A writer who cares about her novels at the level of the sentence.’

Her subjects are sometimes contemporary, even prescient. In Sacred Country (1992) she explored, well ahead of its time, transgender life, while in The Road Home (2007) she considered the economic lot of the mi

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About the contributor

Maggie Fergusson is Literary Editor of The Tablet, and is looking forward to a new novel by Rose Tremain next year.

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