Eleanor Wasserberg Interview

foxloweFriends of the Feminist Library may have been lucky enough to catch Eleanor Wasserberg reading at Tate Modern in February as part of the Library’s activities at Late Tate. A writer based in Norwich, her debut novel Foxlowe has been hailed as a “delicious slice of darkness,” with her prose dripping with the gothic. We have signed copies to send to lucky Friends in our Prize Draw that will be drawn on 8th March. And you don’t have to do anything! Winners will be drawn at random. If you are fortunate to get a prize copy, do tweet us a picture, or even write a short review.

Here’s Eleanor in our exclusive interview:

  • What led you to writing in the first place?

Like most writers, being a voracious reader. Discovering new voices and places to disappear to is second only to creating them for yourself! I tinkered with poems and stories all through my teens, and started to write seriously in my twenties. I joined some writing groups and started workshopping, then took the creative writing course at UEA, where Foxlowe was my MA project.

  • Foxlowe is your very well-received debut novel. What can we expect?

I hope you can expect to be pulled into Green’s world, which is strange, dangerous and sometimes beautiful. People keep telling me how dark, gothic and sinister the novel is, which is true, but it’s also a love letter.

  • What sort of research did you do? Did you draw on your own childhood or the landscapes growing up? And do you use archives, such as the Feminist Library?

My own childhood couldn’t be further from Green’s in the essential ways (although we did keep goats and played maze-making in a nearby field in the summer) but the landscape, certainly, is very much the one I grew up in and which has a strong hold on my imagination. I did visit a few times to take photographs and ramble around, but most of what’s in the book is really my childhood impression, rather than what it is necessarily really like, which felt more right for Green’s voice.

In terms of research I did things backwards, so I plotted out and wrote quite a lot of Foxlowe before I did some background research, then I fed that into the novel. I read quite a lot about group psychology (such as the Milgram and Stanford experiments) and the psychology of superstition, which gave me the image of the shoal, and also the use of the stories at Foxlowe. I also found some cult survivor narratives; I remember one talking about the “authentic self” and “the cult self”, and that the two are always at war- that gave me the idea of the two names, two selves structure. Most of those narratives are in online archives but the bulk of my research was conducted at UEA Library.

  • What influences you?

What I’m reading and what I’m teaching often filters through into my writing work. I’m a reading omnivore and I flit between adored classics and literary fiction and fantasy. Sarah Waters, Margaret Atwood and Shirley Jackson were probably the influences I was most conscious of while writing Foxlowe but there will be many, many more that were subconscious. As I wrote one of the final drafts I was teaching The Turn of the Screw at A Level and I can really see now how some of those ideas and scenes were permeating the writing!

Music is part of the process too: Joni Mitchell’s Blue became an important influence on Foxlowe and I listened to it almost constantly while drafting.

  • The women in the book are complex, arguably not highly likeable. How important is it to create women characters which don’t seek to gain our empathy?

It is difficult to strike that balance in creating characters that are complex and dark but who readers can bear to spend time with and whose fate readers will care about. All of the characters are flawed; you’d be hard pressed to find a greater worm than Richard, for example. But the novel’s focus on female characters and their relationships with each other does mean that both Freya’s and Green’s faults are writ large. Green is very much Freya’s creature, but I hope she has enough redemptive qualities (everything she does is because of love, even if it’s twisted in its expression), that people warm to her, because I adore her. Even Freya isn’t completely a monster, at least to me; I love her vulnerability outside of Foxlowe. So while I do think it is important not to shy away from creating difficult women, indeed I love meeting them as a reader, it’s also important not to create flat characters.