Diane Setterfield Biography
Diane Setterfield was born in Reading and grew up in Theale (both in Berkshire, in the South of England), she attended Theale Green School, and then Bristol University
where she studied French Literature. She has taught in various universities in
England and France, where she lived for several years. The Thirteenth
Tale is her first
novel; her previous publications have been academic works about 19th and
20th century French literature, in particular the works of André Gide (a French
writer, humanist, and moralist who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in
1947). She is 42, married to Peter Whittall, an accountant, and
lives in Harrogate, North Yorkshire (the North of England) with their four cats
where, until recently, she ran her own business teaching French to people
planning to move to France.
She left academia in the late '90s, she enjoyed teaching but hated university
politics and after five years was still working to pay off the loan she had
taken out to fund her PhD. "I gave up my job to write before I knew what I
wanted to write about," she says. "It might seem bold or brave, but really it
comes down to how much you want to do something. If you want to do something so
badly, then you have to take a bold decision."
She says, "I was so tired after leaving academia I worked very hard for the
final year of my job because I wanted to leave everything done right that I
just wanted to do something physical and use a completely different part of my
brain". So, she spent her first year as a novelist renovating her house
and giving private French lessons. "I was doing a lot of physical work, it
was enormously good for me to be away from pen and paper, it enabled me to just
wander in my thoughts and let a different side of my mind take over," she says.
"If I hadn't had the time to do that, I don't think I would have been able to
write the same book I did."
When she finally sat down to start writing she spent the mornings writing and
the afternoons doing "something quiet, to have some thinking time". Then
one day the voice of Miss Winter came to her and she set about a first draft
which was completed 18 months later, but she was unhappy with the result. She
says, "The biographer, Margaret, was very quiet and reserved and she was very
difficult and withdrawn, I could tell she was hiding something from me, but I
couldn't tell what it was. I got very annoyed with the book and the
characters, and didn't do anything for a year. After that I took a deep breath
and sat down with it again. I couldn't leave it alone I just felt these
characters deserved to have their stories told."
Eighteen months later the book was finished, and she sent it to agents in
November 2005. Following a marathon 10-day auction, she was paid £800,000
by her UK publisher, Orion, and a further $1m by Simon & Schuster in the USA.
Rights have already been sold in 31 countries.
The book marks "a return to that rich mine of storytelling that our parents
loved and we loved as children", said Jane Wood, Orion's editor-in-chief,
"It also satisfies the appetite for narrative-driven fiction that has
beginnings, middles and endings, like the great novels of the 19th century. She
creates a wonderful fictional world."
In an interview with the Yorkshire Post Setterfield says that she had had the
idea for The Thirteenth Tale about five years ago,
"I thought of the idea and scribbled some notes down, which were then put in a
draw and stayed there for a very long time. When I took them out I wrote my
first draft. Later I made some major changes and I was very happy with it.
Luckily, when I attended the writing course (which she took to help her
transition from academic writing to fiction, where she was spotted by novelist
Jim Crace) I took down notes on everything about how to get an agent and send
off work to publishers. After that things moved quite quickly."
She goes on to say, "I read French literature almost exclusively for more than a
decade, so when I left academia, I really wanted to go back to the English
classics which I was loved so much as a teenager. It was very nostalgic for me
to write in that sort of style."
When asked about her meteoric success (The Thirteenth Tale went to the
top of the bestseller lists in the USA one week after publication) she replies
that she's not used to being so busy and that she misses writing (ironically,
her current schedule leaves her no time for writing). She goes on to say,
"I'm used to living a really quiet life with lots of space to think. I'm not
used to being so busy and social and meeting all these people. It's not that I'm
anti-social, just that I like my own company, and I've been living with people
who aren't real for the past few years I find real people a lot more
demanding." The Thirteenth Tale was published in early September
'06 in the UK where it was selling moderately well (about 1,000 copies per
week); however, its success in the USA gave a boost to UK sales and awareness.
Setterfield says that for many years she felt unable to write fiction at all, "I
thought authors had to be orphans, or have a drug problem, or be out having lots
of sex and none of those things were me! Once I realized that the only
difference between everyone else and writers is that they write, I felt I had
When asked what has changed in her life she has to give some thought and finally
admits that she has a cleaner and no longer does the washing up at home, but
that she misses the latter, saying, "It was part of my quiet afternoon time when
I was allowed to think".
This biography was last updated on 10/12/2006.
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