Excerpt of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
(Page 2 of 5)
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Not that this letter was anything like as
challenging as some. It began with a curt "Miss Lea"; thereafter
the hieroglyphs resolved themselves quickly into characters,
then words, then sentences.
This is what I read:
I once did an interview for the Banbury Herald. I must
look it out one of these days, for the biography. Strange
chap they sent me. A boy, really. As tall as a man, but with
the puppy fat of youth. Awkward in his new suit. The suit
was brown and ugly and meant for a much older man. The
collar, the cut, the fabric, all wrong. It was the kind of
thing a mother might buy for a boy leaving school for his
first job, imagining that her child will somehow grow into
it. But boys do not leave their boyhood behind when they
leave off their school uniform.
There was something in his manner. An
intensity. The moment I set eyes on him, I thought, "Aha,
what's he after?"
I've nothing against people who love truth.
Apart from the fact that they make dull companions. Just so
long as they don't start on about storytelling and honesty,
the way some of them do. Naturally that annoys me. But
provided they leave me alone, I won't hurt them.
My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but
with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there
in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at
midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear
in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the
bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long
fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in
your bed, don't expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to
come running to your aid. What you need are the plump
comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.
Some writers don't like interviews of
course. They get cross about it. "Same old questions," they
complain. Well, what do they expect? Reporters are hacks. We
writers are the real thing. Just because they always ask the
same questions, it doesn't mean we have to give them the
same old answers, does it? I mean, making things up, it's
what we do for a living. So I give dozens of interviews a
year. Hundreds over the course of a lifetime. For I have
never believed that genius needs to be locked away out of
sight to thrive. My genius is not so frail a thing that it
cowers from the dirty fingers of the newspapermen.
In the early years they used to try to catch
me out. They would do research, come along with a little
piece of truth concealed in their pocket, draw it out at an
opportune moment and hope to startle me into revealing more.
I had to be careful. Inch them in the direction I wanted
them to take, use my bait to draw them gently,
imperceptibly, toward a prettier story than the one they had
their eye on. A delicate operation. Their eyes would start
to shine, and their grasp on the little chip of truth would
loosen, until it dropped from their hand and fell,
disregarded, by the wayside. It never failed. A good story
is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.
Afterward, once I became famous, the Vida
Winter interview became a sort of rite of passage for
journalists. They knew roughly what to expect, would have
been disappointed to leave without the story. A quick run
through the normal questions (Where do you get your
inspiration? Are your characters based on real people? How
much of your main character is you?) and the shorter my
answers the better they liked it. (Inside my head. No.
None.) Then, the bit they were waiting for, the thing they
had really come for. A dreamy, expectant look stole across
their faces. They were like little children at bedtime. And
you, Miss Winter, they said. Tell me about yourself.
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Setterfield