Last month, Spinebreakers went along to the annual Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013. Six brilliant female authors were up for the accolade, with nominees including the likes of Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith.
In the end, it was American author A.M Homes that took the top prize with her critically acclaimed novel May We Be Forgiven.
We invited two of our lucky Spinebreakers, Megan and Mandy, along to the awards ceremony where they got to interview the winner herself! Read on to find out what A.M Homes had to say on her win and her motivations as a writer…
Mandy: So, for those who’ve yet to read May We Be Forgiven, could you give us a summary of what the book is about?
A. M. Homes: It’s funny, I’m not very good at doing that! [laughs]
It’s a story about two very angry brothers; there’s a big sibling rivalry. But more importantly, it’s a book about family. About a guy who’s in his forties, and hasn’t really grown up yet – I keep describing it as a sort of mid-life coming-of-age story. And it’s dark, but it’s also funny. I think of it really as a roller-coaster ride through modern America. With a lot of bumps; the kind that make you go ‘aah!’
Mandy: Which female writer have you personally been most inspired by?
A.M Homes: You know, I feel lucky that I had some great teachers. Angela [Carter] was an incredible teacher, and there’s an American writer named Grace Paley who only wrote short stories, who was a wonderful teacher too. And I had another teacher who’s a novelist and critic named Doris, who was the only person I ever stole a line from!
It gives you a vote of confidence that other women are writing serious things, and say that you can do this too. I think that’s one of the incredible, kind of unspoken, merits of the [Women's] Prize [for Fiction].
Mandy: What made you want to be a writer?
A.M Homes: The Rolling Stones don’t hire girls (laughs). The hard thing is, I’m really quite shy. So I think writing, for me was something I could do by myself, and be successful in by myself.
Megan: Congratulations on winning the Women’s Prize For Fiction. How do you feel?
AM Homes: Surprised! [laughs] Really, I feel – it’s really exciting. I don’t – have you ever won a prize?
Megan: Uh, no. [laughs]
AM Homes: [laughs] Doesn’t happen very often. That was me ’til now. I tell you, it’s really good! It’s fun; it’s exciting; the nice thing is that it also means now more people who haven’t read this book, who haven’t read my work, will go back and read the earlier books. That’s very cool.
Megan: Do you think it’s easier for female authors to break through in America than it is in the UK?
AM Homes: [shakes head] I think it’s probably easier in the UK.
AM Homes: Everyone keeps asking that. I think that, you know, in America there really is a divide, in the sense that women writers are supposed to write small domestic books or chick lit. If you look at the history of English literature, and with contemporaries like Hilary Mantel or Zadie [Smith] writing these very big books, you have incredible writers writing really important works.
It’s very different in the US – I think that there is more of a pigeonhole. Angela Carter is an English writer and was one of my teachers, and what was interesting was to see how she wrote books that were incredibly imaginative and also very philosophical and political. There’s no one in America who’s ever doing that, I think.
Megan: What are your top three tips for aspiring authors?
AM Homes: Write and write and write. That’s just one tip! [laughs] You know, I teach writing often, and I think that young writers will sometimes write a draft of something and then think that they’re done. And that’s really only the very beginning.
I also think the other thing is to feel free to frighten yourself. Don’t just write what feels comfortable; write what feels uncomfortable, write the thing that you’re afraid of saying, the thing that you’re maybe willing to write down privately or talk about privately but that you wouldn’t just, you know, tell everybody else.
Do you write?
AM Homes: What do you write?
Megan: I have a blog – a book blog, so I do reviews, do pieces for various sites.
AM Homes: Do you ever write any short stories or poems?
Megan: I don’t do poems, but I write stories and I like writing stories a lot so… fingers crossed! [laughs]