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Sam O'Reilly

By Sarah Hutchings

Sam O'Reilly

This interview with Sam O'Reilly was first published on The Deckchair website on 14/01/2008.

How did you get your first break?
I sent my first novel 'The Best Possible Taste' to four agents. Amazingly, two came back right away and offered to represent me. Within a month, I had a two book deal with Penguin.

Could you describe your working day.
I wish I could paint a picture of serene and productive creative endeavour. I should write 1000 words a day, but rarely do. I have two children (11 and 13), an annoying day job (freelance journalism, non-glam) and a washing machine which seems to be at the centre of my life.  (Did Colette have to sort out ramparts of almost exactly identical black socks? I think not.)  A perfect working day for me is escaping to Sussex University library, finding a quiet corner and writing in long hand. When I flag, I go to the student café and nibble a KitKat. I feel about nineteen.

How does an idea become a novel?
God knows. I've had about ten perfectly brilliant ideas for my third book, but none have made the grade, somehow. A good idea needs worrying at, and constant attention. If it is something that really bugs you, that is always a good start. And having some kind of subject knowledge can help. I once had a great idea about a Parisian plastic surgeon, but guess what, it would have taken me years to do the research.

Which book do you wish you'd written?
'Affinity' by Sarah Waters is so brilliant that when it ended, I laughed out loud. Not because it's funny, but because it's so stylish and ingenious.

As a reader, do you always finish a book you've started?
I'm the world's worst non-finisher of books. I used to annoy hell out the book group I was in, because I barely ever finished a novel, but liked to sound off about my opinions, just the same. Literary novels frequently seem almost wilfully tedious to me. I don't want to be marooned in some pointless description. I want the writer to get on with telling me the story.

If you weren't a writer, what job would you like to have done?
I'd like to have been a psychoanalyst, and have carte blanche to talk to people about their innermost fears and secrets.

Describe your perfect day.
I used to live in Barcelona. My perfect day would be spent wandering about in the Gothic quarter, Born, Ravalle, the seafront, everywhere, looking the fantastic Gaudi buildings and revisiting all my old haunts.

What keeps you awake at night?
Everything from bird flu to Barclaycard.  I am Anxiety Queen. Three am is a very active time for me. I don't really understand why other people are so laid back.

Why did you choose to live in Brighton and Hove and what keeps you here?
Brighton is fun, eclectic, scruffy, glamorous, edgy, theatrical. A treat of a town. (I agree with Julie Burchill that it doesn't feel like a city.) I still get a thrill when I see "Brighton" on the front of a train coming into London Bridge, and know that's where I live.  What keeps me here is feeling so cheeky - how did I get away with this?

How does living here inspire your work?
All the reasons above. It's not a place where you have to fit in with the mainstream way of doing things. You can be a bit odd.  And there is a wonderful network of interesting writers and artists. Hugely inspiring - I'm even collaborating on a TV comedy with Annabel Giles, another Penguin author who has recently moved down here.

This page was amended on 03/02/2012
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