"Is this it?" Journalist and super fan, Anna-Marie earnt her writing stripes penning articles for The Times, Emerald Street, Guardian and Time Out to name just a few publications. We managed to grab five to talk constellations, The Strokes and her stellar debut novel, The Illumination of Ursula Flight...
CAN YOU SUM UP WHAT YOU DO IN FIVE WORDS?
Writer of many different things...
FROM PODCASTS TO PLAYLISTS, WHAT DO YOU LISTEN TO INSPIRE YOU?
I’m constantly putting together new Spotify playlists to soundtrack my walking – I walk everywhere, and I like to do it imagining I’m in a film. Doesn’t everyone do that? My playlists are usually themed around parties I might be having or road trips I might be going on or just the season. The latest series of Transparent reminded me how much I love the groovy 70s soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar, so went off on a god bothering tangent for a while around Easter. Now it’s getting warm I’ve come over all psychedelic and am listening to a lot of acid-soaked 60s music like the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Fairport Convention and early Pink Floyd, peppered with a bit of modern psychadelia like Grizzly Bear and Tame Impala.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO JOURNALISM AND WHY?
I spent my teenage years in my bedroom reading 90s music magazines like Melody Maker, NME, Select and The Face, dreaming of living in London and hanging out with cool, sexy band boys in tight trousers. I was obsessed with music and I’d pore over the gig reviews and band interviews – and it soon became obvious to me that I had to urgently move to London and become a music journalist. I only applied to universities in London for my English degree, and the very same day I handed in my final dissertation at King’s College London, I rang up my then favourite magazine, Sleazenation, to ask about interning. They told me I could just come in and start the next day – it was that sort of place. Soon I was tearing about interviewing bands like The Strokes and Mogwai and Bonny Prince Billy. I dyed my hair half black/half peroxide and gave myself a feather cut. I thought I looked exactly like Deborah Harry.
YOUR DEBUT NOVEL, ‘THE ILLUMINATION OF URSULA FLIGHT’ JUST LAUNCHED. WHAT LED YOU TO SET IT WITHIN RESTORATION ENGLAND?
I’ve always been interested in history and am a great devourer of historical biographies by people like Antonia Fraser and Alison Weir. For a few years I was obsessed with the 16th century, then I got heavily into the 17th. I discovered that the Restoration era – which begins when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 – was an incredible time of creativity – and relative freedom for women. I’m a huge theatre lover and it was a pivotal time in the history of British theatre – in 1660 women were allowed to act on stage for the first time ever. I got really into Aphra Behn – the only known woman playwright of the time – who was writing hilarious satires of women and men and sex and relationships just as good as anything by Shakespeare. I started to wonder how many other female writers there had been, who had been forgotten or glossed over by history. In my character Ursula I’ve imagined a girl growing up at the time and wanting to become a writer, and all the obstacles she might face, in her path to her true destiny as a writer.
THE PROTAGONIST, URSULA FLIGHT, IS ‘BORN ON THE NIGHT OF A BAD-LUCK COMET’. LOOKING TO THE STARS, WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE CONSTELLATION AND WHY?
I do like star gazing. It was another one of the teenage things I always used to do; from my bedroom window I could often see The Plough (or the Big Dipper if you’re American) – it’s easy to spot because it looks like a big saucepan – and I used to lean out of the window, looking at that and dreaming of escaping the suburbs for a more exciting life. The Plough is actually part of the constellation Ursa Major or the Great Bear, which is a part of my novel – Ursula’s father names her after it on the night she is born. I only realised when I was researching the book that I had been gazing up at part of Ursa Major my whole life. So for those reasons, I’d have to say Ursa Major is my favourite constellation. It’s quite hard to stargaze in London, because there’s so much pollution, you have to go to the country or quiet, dark places abroad. Instead I use an app, so I can see what’s above me. I like knowing I’m not alone in the universe.
WHAT DO YOU PERSONALLY REGARD AS YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT?
Writing and publishing a novel. It has always been my dream. It feels great to have done it.
WHAT’S THE BEST DECISION YOU EVER MADE?
To quit the rubbish freelance job I was doing at the time and start a masters in Creative Writing at Bath Spa university a couple of months later. It was quite impulsive, but I had a lingering sense that it was now or never. I used all my savings on the course fees, wrote my book on the course, and graduated with distinction in 2017. And of course, my book got published too. That was a good decision.
Plucking my eyebrows into then-achingly fashionable pencil thin lines, 1995-1998.
WHICH TATTY DEVINE PIECE IS YOUR FAVOURITE?
As I once modelled it, I have to say the glasses necklace (large size). It’s a bookish, librarian-ish sort of piece that suits me down to the ground and I think is totally timeless. I still wear it, even though my lenses are now a bit scratched – I’ve had it for more than a decade, and it’s been to a lot of parties.
WHICH WOMEN ARE YOU WATCHING RIGHT NOW?
Mine are all current novelists I admire because they all write so well about the experience of being a woman, all in different ways: Sarah Perry, Tessa Hadley, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lauren Groff, Sally Rooney, Meena Kandasamy, Imogen Hermes Gower, Naomi Alderman, Jessie Burton, Emma Cline and Sarah Waters. All power to them.
Thanks, Anna Marie. Fancy getting your stargazer on? We've teamed up to giveaway a signed copy of The Illumination of Ursula Flight and a one-off Great Bear Charm Necklace for one lucky winner! .
*Competition now closed. Thanks for entering!