Beyond the Book: Background information when reading 26a

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26a by Diana Evans
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2006, 304 pages

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Diana Evans is a graduate of the University of East Anglia's Creative Writing MA, and lives in London.  She has published short fiction in a number of anthologies, has worked as a journalist and arts critic for several magazines in the United Kingdom, and writes regularly for the Independent and Stage. She recently won the 2005 Orange Prize for New Writers for 26a (The Orange Prize for Fiction, supported by the Arts Council England, has been awarded annually for 10 years but last year was the first year for the Orange Award for New Writers).

Diana Evans was prompted to write her first novel following the suicide of her own twin sister.  She says, "It stopped me in my tracks ... I wasn't really satisfied with what I was doing. It threw me and made me think that life is too short."  She sees 26a as a tribute to the world of twins, in an interview in 3ammagazine.com she says being a twin "is a very special, magical relationship and it's fascinating, even to me ... most people build armor to protect themselves from other people but when you're a twin, everything's stripped down. You know each other so intimately and you don't have that armor."

With regard to suicide, she says that while most see it in a negative way, she has learned that there is a more positive and magical side, she says, "It's about a person freeing themselves. It is actually a very courageous thing to do. To leave can be braver than to just stay here and struggle on, never knowing whether you'll ever be happy."   For obvious reasons, writing 26a was especially hard for her - she felt a burning passion to complete it and felt a great sense of relief when it was done, but not in a cathartic sense.   She put her life on hold while writing it, and has promised herself that she will be less intense with the next book, which she is writing in bursts while her baby daughter sleeps.

Talking about her second novel, currently in progress, Diana says "I'm at that agonizing, chaotic conceptual stage where the idea is much, much bigger than I thought it was and I realize terrifying things, such as the small matter of having to research the entire history of the entire world, for instance. I’m also casually working on a short story about a little girl who gets sucked into a hoover (vacuum cleaner)".  

Amongst her favorite books she includes Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex; Jean Rhys's After Leaving Mr Mackenzie; Mark Doty's Heaven's Coast, Stardust by Neil Gaiman; short story collections by Raymond Carver, Jackie Kay, Anton Chekhov and Ali Smith; and the poems of Rita Dove and Mary Oliver; and in particular The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

This article was originally published in November 2005, and has been updated for the September 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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