Joanna Kavenna

Q & A

Where are you from?
The United Kingdom

Who are your favorite writers?
Knut Hamsun, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Rebecca West, F Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Campbell, William James, Charlotte Bronte, Katherine Mansfield, Robert Musil, Albert Camus, Saul Bellow, Philip K Dick, Jens Bjorneboe, Carol Shields, Margaret Atwood, etc.

Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Joseph Campbell’s writings, F Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories and essays particularly, Ubik by Philip K Dick, La Peste by Albert Camus and many others.

What are your hobbies and outside interests?
Moving house (perpetually peripatetic). Walking – in cities or nature – fascinated by the landscapes of both environments. Traveling in any manner affordable. Music including trying to remember how to play the piano, if I ever knew. Sports of whatever season I’m in – I have no great expertise but will try almost anything except probably darts and ice hockey. Epic procrastination.

What is the single best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
Don’t wait until you are perfect, until your writing is perfect – just write what you can, try as hard as you can, keep trying – the old Beckett adage about trying again failing again, failing better.

What is your favorite quote?
Perhaps the old Beckett adage: “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

What is the question most commonly asked by your readers?  What is the answer?
With my first novel Inglorious a few readers wondered if the story was autobiographical. The answer is that it isn’t at all. The main character, Rosa Lane, is not me at all; the details of her life are not mine and I don’t think the way she does about many things. But then there’s always the caveat that I believe we are all so rampantly subjective that even the most ostensibly empirical history book is really at one level a piece of autobiography by the author. It’s one of the great paradoxes of writing fiction, to me – that I have no idea what it’s really like to be anyone else, and yet I try to imagine the thoughts of others, try to create plausible characters. I suppose I feel that we are all so mutually unknowable, at one level, that you can never make a claim to be escaping from your own autobiography, because where would you go? Not into someone else’s head, because that’s closed off to you, however hard you try. But then somehow connections are forged, quite meaningful one. Anyway, The Birth of Love isn’t autobiographical either, with the above caveat equally in place.

What inspired you to write your first book?
I was really just driven by an urge to write – which seemed for many years to be a completely absurd and rather self-destructive urge, but it just kept preventing me from doing anything more gainful or sensible.

Where do you write?
I write longhand so I’m happy to write anywhere except libraries. I get driven mad by semi-audible whispers – would rather be able to eavesdrop at will, or not to hear anything at all. But otherwise – at home, in cafes, on buses, trains, planes – it doesn’t much matter to me if I’m in a writing phase. If I’m not in a writing phase then equally it doesn’t matter where I am, I simply can’t write anything at all.



The Birth of Love

Joanna Kavenna

From the winner of the Orange Award for New Writers, an epic novel of childbirth—past, present, and future The year is 1865. In Vienna, Dr. Ignasz Semmelweiss has been hounded...



Joanna Kavenna

When Rosa Lane, a promising young journalist, impulsively hits the send button on an email to her boss saying "I quit," so begins her pursuit of enlightenment in the jungles of cutthroat London....