Salley Vickers
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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
us all?

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 etc.

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 judge?

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 direction?

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 human.

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.


 
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