Interview: Barbara Ewing talks about her novel, The Actresses
Barbara is the author of seven historical novels including A Dangerous Vine which was longlisted for the Orange Prize, The Trespass set in colonial New Zealand, and most recently The Petticoat Men which was shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for crime writing. She wrote The Actresses twenty-one years ago when she was approaching middle-age and, as an actress the prospect of unemployment. She wrote, as nobody else had, the truth about actresses’ lives. She talks to NZ Booklovers about The Actresses.
Tell us a little about The Actresses.
The Actresses is a thriller. The story is built around what happens at a reunion of actors and actresses. That’s a way into the story. No matter what you want to say and however important it is, you still must write a page-turning read.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was angry, and I knew I wanted to write about something political. Although I was very lucky with my acting roles and work in shows such as Brass, I was getting to the age where I wasn’t getting the same phone calls with offers of work. Glenda Jackson said, ‘I’m not waiting around to play “the Wife” or “the Mother” I’m going to be an MP.’ She was a film star, she was a stage star, and she wasn’t waiting around. So if she wasn’t waiting, I certainly wasn’t. And that’s when it came to me – that I would write about it.
What research was involved?
I drew on my life, my friend’s lives and stories that went around the business that we all knew about. We were exchanging stories all the time. Sometimes people would tell me things and I would be so shocked. But there were also lots of things we could laugh about too!
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
When I started writing this book, I was in New Zealand. I started writing early in the day, and I was on a roll and when I came to it was evening and I still had my nightie on. So I ran out and went for a swim. That doesn’t always work, of course, and sometimes it is difficult to find time to write. My rule of thumb, if it is possible, is to write every day, even if it is just making notes. Because then your subconscious is working away on the problem and when you pick up your pen again it sometimes takes you off to places you didn’t know you were going to go. If I were ever going to advise people wanting to write, it would be to try and write something every day, if you can.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Mary Cecilia Brown and the Hollywood Sign by Dory Previn – I quote it in the book, as it tells of what can happen, and what does happen in the book.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
I’d love to see Nicole Kidman playing a role. She has almost been quoting from the blurb on the back of the book when she talks about that at last someone of her age can continue to work. I’d love for her to read the book as I’m sure she would be interested in playing one of the characters. There are so many older women who there hasn’t been enough work for, but that’s all changing.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
Getting it off my chest! It was affecting me. I wasn’t working like I used to be working. I was very lucky as I was still working when I was 40 in Brass, which is probably one of the most well-known things I have done, and when it was going it was marvellous. But after this there wasn’t a lot of work around, so I enjoyed writing about it all!
The Actresses was first published in 1997 but seems even more relevant now than ever. Things are improving for actresses, but has it gone far enough when considering issues like the ‘casting couch’, sexism and ageism?
Things have improved when you look at the number of older actresses who are now articulate and working. I think things will continue to improve for actresses.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I thought Autumn by Ali Smith was wonderful, and I have Winter in my bag to read for the plane ride back to the UK.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I never discuss books before they are finished, but I am in the process of finishing another book.