27 May 2017

You tend to write about ‘ordinary’ lives, and don’t shy away from the difficulties people face in them. Why do you think it’s important to write about loss and unhappiness?

It is important for me to take on the issues of loss and unhappiness because everyone in their lives feels these things at some point, and my hope is that by writing about these ordinary people, two things will happen: The reader will feel more empathy as a result of seeing how others live, and also, they will hopefully recognize pieces of themselves and realise that whatever awful thoughts they may have had, or feelings, have been thought or felt by others as well.

Do you think those sorts of stories are even more important now that social media is feeding us a never-ending fallacy of everyone else having ‘perfect’ lives?

I think these stories are always important, but perhaps even more so now that social media allows people to write their own narratives in a way that makes them appear trouble free. Again, my hope is that people will not feel so alone in their darker moments.

There seems to be an increase in interest in small-town America at the moment, what with the success of things like the S-Town podcast – not to mention all the analysis of the Trump phenomenon. Why do you think these communities hold such fascination?

I do think the Trump era has brought to life these kinds of towns more, but they have always existed, and they need to be written about.  If I am to write about the human experience – what we do and think and feel while we are here on earth – then these towns need to be included.

Elizabeth Strout: 'my hope is that people will not feel so alone'

The Trump era has brought to life these kinds of towns more, but they have always existed, and they need to be written about

Fans of My Name is Lucy Barton will be pleased to hear that Lucy makes a reappearance in Anything is Possible, but you’ve chosen not to focus the book on her this time – why was that?

I wanted the book to describe the lives of those people that Lucy and her mother were discussing in the hospital.  I wasn’t even sure I would have Lucy make an appearance, because her first–person narrative voice in My Name is Lucy Barton was so particular and distinct, I didn’t know if it would work having the camera see her from the outside.  But as I kind of sidled up next to her brother, I realized I could do it that way – have her come home for a visit.  But the book is not so much about her as the people that inhabited her childhood.

If you could spend a day with any one of your characters, which would it be and why? 

If I could spend a day with any of my characters is would probably be Patty Nicely.  I think she’s such a lovely woman, and her attraction for men who are wounded touches me.  But she has a huge heart and is a good person.

There is a writer in My Name is Lucy Barton who tells her class of aspiring writers, “You only ever have one story.” Do you believe this is the case and, if so, do you know what your one story is?

I am not sure that this is the case with me: that I have only one story. But it seemed like good advice that the character Sara Payne would give Lucy.  I think I have more than one story, and yet, that said, all my work is of a piece, as it is mine, and will reflect that.

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