From the Women’s Prize Archives.
The brilliant Gail Honeyman has been longlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Read on to find out what the process of writing Eleanor was like, how Gail feels about the upcoming big screen adaptation and what she’s working on next.
Why was it important to you to write about loneliness in the modern age?
The idea for the novel was initially sparked by an article about the topic that I read a few years ago. It included an interview with a young woman who lived alone in a big city – she had a flat and a job, and said that unless she made a special effort, she would often leave work on a Friday night and not speak to another human being until Monday morning. Her story really struck me; when loneliness is discussed in the media, it’s often in the context of older people, and so it was relatively unusual to hear a younger person’s experience. When I thought more about it, I realised that there were plenty of potential routes to a young person finding themselves in those circumstances, living that life through no fault of their own and not by choice. I was also reminded of how hard it can be, at any age, to forge meaningful connections. From there, the story and the character of Eleanor Oliphant slowly began to emerge.
Eleanor Oliphant is set to be brought to the big screen by Reese Witherspoon’s production company – do you have any particular hopes or concerns around the film adaptation?
It’s all very exciting! I’m in awe of the way actors can inhabit characters and bring them to life. It’s still very early days in the process, but I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Why did you choose to set your debut in Glasgow?
I wanted to set it there because it’s a place that I know and love. It’s a warm, kind and incredibly friendly city, but it’s not always portrayed that way, and I was glad to have the opportunity to show that side. Near the start of this novel, an elderly man man collapses in the street, and I think that, if that were to happen in Glasgow in real life, at least ten people would rush forward to help him!
Eleanor as a character is so beautifully drawn, did she wander into your head fully formed or was there a lengthy process behind creating her?
That’s really kind of you – thank you! The character came from the voice, I think; once I had that worked out, the rest came from there. Although there are dark sections in the narrative, the character was often great fun to write; I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to see the world through her eyes.
Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?
Although I loved writing Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I’m enjoying working on something very different now. I don’t want to say too much about the new book at this stage; not because it’s a secret, but because I’m right in the middle of it all. I’m enjoying working with new voices and different time periods. Fingers crossed people will enjoy reading it!