Helen Walsh, author of The Lemon Grove and an upcoming IFOA Weekly participant, answered our five questions.
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Helen Walsh: It was a combination of the rugged beauty of the Mallorcan landscape (the novel is set in Deia, a mountain village on the North West coast of the island) and an enduring interest in female desire and sexuality that inspired me to write The Lemon Grove. I have always been fascinated by depictions of inter-generational relationships—both in the media and in the works of some of my favourite contemporary novelists: Philip Roth, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, J.M. Coetzee. All of these writers portray older male protagonists, desirous of sex with much younger women. I wanted to write a novel that dealt with this theme, but from an older woman’s point of view.
IFOA: How did the experience of writing The Lemon Grove compare with that of your previous novels?
The Lemon Grove in some respects is a subtle departure from my previous works. It is the first of my novels that is not located in an urban milieu. The language employed in The Lemon Grove to evoke this particular landscape is different to the language I used in my last three novels. It is much tauter and economical.
IFOA: Beginning, middle or end—which do you find the most challenging to write?
Walsh: I think I usually have a crises of confidence somewhere between beginning and middle. It’s round about here that I become aware of the inconsistencies between the characters and story I set out to write, and the characters and story that are evolving. I usually take some time out around this juncture and live with them a while before moving forward.
IFOA: Name one book that has made a lasting impression on you.
Walsh: It would be impossible to single out one novel, as there are so many that have inspired me at different moments in my life. I think Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn was the novel that really spoke to me as an adolescent. Up until then, I wasn’t aware that those types of worlds and characters were represented in literary fiction. I was blown away by Selby’s use of language too. I was about 15 when I read that novel and I carried it everywhere with me—and I shared it with no one.
IFOA: What are you working on now?
Walsh: I’m currently directing my first feature film, which I’ve written. I tend to think and write in scenes, so the transition from novelist to writer/director has been pretty easy.
Helen Walsh‘s first novel, Brass, was published in 2004 and was the winner of a Betty Trask Prize. Her second novel, Once Upon a Time in England, was the winner of a Somerset Maugham Award and her third novel, Go to Sleep, was published by Canongate to much fanfare in 2011. She will present her new novel, The Lemon Grove alongside authors Claire Cameron and Karen Russell on March 13.