I’m delighted to have novelist Beatrice Hitchman answer my ’20 Questions’ just a few days before the paperback publication of her debut, Petite Mort, and its serialisation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’. We met in the South West of England two years ago when both working on projects, and it is the greatest pleasure to witness her success with her first novel, and have her participate in this questionnaire on process and creativity….
Beatrice Hitchman was born in London in 1980. She read English and French at Edinburgh University and then completed an MA in Comparative Literature. After a year living in Paris, she moved back to the UK, trained and worked as a documentary film editor, also writing and directing short films. Petite Mort is her debut novel. It was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2013, is shortlisted for the Festival du Premier Roman de Chambery 2014, and has been adapted as a Radio 4 Woman’s Hour drama featuring Honor Blackman.
What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?
Realising that the Care Bear cartoon episodes I wanted to watch didn’t exist yet. I had a serious conversation with myself and realised that even though I was only five, it was down to me to write them.
What was your big breakthrough?
Getting published by Serpent’s Tail.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?
Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?
I think everything you read sandpapers you down somehow.
What’s more important: form or content?
How do you know when a project is finished?
The deadline opens under my feet.
Do you read your reviews?
Yes. It helps you to cross the gap between what you think you’ve written, and what you might actually turn out to have written.
What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?
You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake, but you work is: protect it. As a general principle, give more time to advice that encourages you to take risks. Ignore the blah-blah-blah and the loudmouths; the people who talk the most about writing may be the ones who love it least. Learn not to be afraid of being tired.
What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?
I think it’s a myth that you should be able to write anywhere.
What are you working on now?
A story about a whale. I’m enjoying the scenery very much. And the fact I can hold my breath for an hour…
What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel.
What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
Time’s a-wasting. You don’t have to wait until your thirties to have the confidence to take your own writing seriously.
What’s your greatest ambition?
To create the perfect thing.
How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?
Strike out with firm, broad strokes, chin held high.
What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?
It’s never so bad when people talk about your work; you think, well, at least they care enough to talk.
And the best thing?
‘It’s the real thing.’
If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?
This isn’t mine, but it’s the best way I’ve heard to describe it: it’s like having a bath permanently running upstairs:
What is your philosophy or life motto?
I really don’t have a clue what I’m doing, but that’s OK because I really don’t think anybody else does either….do they?
What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?
It’s not a choice.
What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?
I wouldn’t change a thing.
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For further information on Beatrice, her novel, and the radio four serialisation, please go to: