Julie Myerson: Interview

Time Out admires Julie Myerson‘s ’The Story of You‘, which explores the way a mother is affected by the death of her baby

  • If you’ve seen Anthony Minghella’s debut movie ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’, you’ll recall the main character, played by Juliet Stevenson, dealing with the death of her lover by talking to his ghost (Alan Rickman). A similar ethereal thread runs through Julie Myerson’s new novel, ‘The Story of You’, and it’s no great surprise that FilmFour and Minghella have snapped up the novel’s film rights.

    ‘I was quite surprised,’ admits Myerson. ‘I can see the similarity, but I didn’t think of my novel as filmic. Having said that, Anthony Minghella doesn’t want to direct “The Story of You” himself because he thinks it’s too close to “Truly, Madly, Deeply”.’

    Both artists have an uncanny ability to deal both delicately and head-on with some of life’s darkest places: murder, infidelity, obsession and madness. That’s why I’m perplexed when I meet Myerson: she looks lovely and unaffected, with none of the anxiety that I’d detected in the publicity shots. Her words bubble up and tumble on top of each other in joyous heaps, punctuated by a sparkle in clear blue eyes. She is, in fact, perfectly happy.

    ‘It’s a safe place to explore fear from. I write about the things that frighten me. Some of the book is autobiographical, like the part when Rosy [the main character] is in Florence and suddenly finds herself staring into the abyss. Jonathan [Myerson’s partner of 17 years] thinks it’s funny, because the women in my novels are always flaky and complicated and trying to kill their husbands! One thing I was trying to do in this novel,’ she adds, ‘is write candidly about a real marriage.’

    Myerson’s parents separated when she was 12, and she has no memorabilia from her childhood. Her new stepfather, ‘a wonderful man who brought me up’, left later for another woman and failed to keep in touch. ‘It was like, by leaving, he trashed all the shared memories we’d built up.’ Her biological father committed suicide, although Myerson maintains that this had little bearing on her writing. ‘It always seems a bit neat to me to say that’s where my novels come from. Marriage is about shared history. My father actually cut my mother’s face off all the family photos when they separated… But I wanted to write long before those things started happening.’

    ‘The Story of You’ is constructed purely from dialogue, internal and external, in the mind of Rosy, a married, middle-aged mother whose baby has recently died. It is an effective study of the power that people have of conjuring up what they need when they need it, and the havoc it causes to the people around them.

    ‘I sat down with a blank page and could feel snow. I knew then that I wanted to write about a snowy room.’ That was the student room in which Rosy had spent one night in a fully clothed embrace with her housemate, 20 years earlier. The novel is a constant replay and reflection of that memory, and its effect on Rosy’s present: the pain of her baby’s death, and her progressively alienated family.

    ‘The power of the mind and what we can convince ourselves of is absolutely incredible. People experience things that can’t be explained. I saw the ghost of a boy once, when it walked around my house and woke me up in the middle of the night…

    ‘But writing has to ring true. I take an unsentimental approach. The only thing I don’t like is very girly writing, because I find it emotionally lazy. I’m always trying to be less feminine in my writing! If you’re going to write about sex, children, babies, any of those things, what I really try to do is not have an ounce of sentiment there.’

    At the same time, Myerson aims for emotional suspense. ‘I need to know how people deal with the loss of something from their past that they feel like they can never regain. And I was wondering what it would be like if one could regain something. It hadn’t even occurred to me until a friend said it, that it’s a love story.’

    ‘A Story of You’ is Myerson’s sixth novel. She wrote her first at the age of 32, when she already had three children. ‘Jonathan was very supportive – or rather, I wasn’t very nice to live with until I’d had a chance to write!’ While the other novels took up to two years to complete, this was an intense four-month affair. ‘When you’ve got children, you have to go away to write. I got up at seven, worked for two hours, had a long breakfast, wrote for three hours, went off and looked in antiques shops for three hours, came back… It was a fantastic experience.’

    Where, I wonder, does all that energy come from? Myerson smiles. ‘If you want to write books, you don’t have to look for energy. If everyone leaves me alone, it’s there.’ She pauses. ‘I think, like all my novels, this will be one that you will either love or hate.’

    ‘The Story of You’ is published by Cape at £12.99.

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