My decision to write the book that is The Interview evolved over the best part of a decade. Anything to do with Irish designer Eileen Gray intrigued me, and I’d long been a fan of Bruce Chatwin’s writing. I hadn’t known they’d met.
This is my 12th book – I write both fiction and non-fiction. At this stage I know enough about the market to know that my idea was not commercial. And yet, I’d always written what interested me and so far, with the exception of one manuscript, my stories had always found a publisher.
The Interview is based on fact and set in Paris in 1972. It explores what happened between Eileen Gray and Bruce Chatwin on a damp Sunday afternoon in November.
The background to the story: After decades of living reclusively, in 1972, aged 94, Irish designer, architect and painter, Eileen Gray was back in the news. This was due to $36,000 price paid at auction for her lacquer screen, the then highest price ever paid for a ‘modern’ antique. Le Destin was the 4-panel screen that brought her fame in 1913 when it was bought by couturier and fine arts collector Jacques Doucet, and again in 1972 at the executors’ sale of Doucet’s collection.
That same year, 32-year old Bruce Chatwin was the rising star of Fleet Street. After a successful career in Sotheby’s and studying Archaeology in Scotland, he had joined the Sunday Times magazine as art and architectural adviser, with an unlimited expense account. It’s documented in Under the Sun, the Letters of Bruce Chatwin, edited by Elizabeth Chatwin & Nicholas Shakespeare that he wanted to interview Eileen Gray. He came to Paris to do the interview.
Once I began researching her, I was hooked. Since the mid-1930s she had lived reclusively, her eyesight was failing, although she never stopped designing. She was Irish and aristocratic, with a title she didn’t use. She was bisexual with a habit of forming unsuitable relationships – her best known being Damia, the daughter of a gendarme and a nightclub singer who took Paris by storm, and left her for the daughter of a wealthy German banker. Later there was Jean Badovici, a penniless, womanising Romanian architect. Before her death she destroyed all personal papers, letters and photographs, but left a meticulous record of her projects.
Other projects which added to her international reputation included the rue de Lota apartment, owned by the Levys. Due to the ensuing publicity she received commissions from clients as diverse as beef barons in Argentina and Indian maharajas. And then she’d created E.1027, regarded as one of the most iconic houses of the 20th century.
I had plenty of material to work with.
My first stop was the National Library for a trawl through the microfiches of the late 1972 and early 1973 for Bruce Chatwin’s interview. It didn’t exist. I rang the Sunday Times offices in London; they were helpful but couldn’t help. I called Elizabeth Chatwin in Wales. Yes, Bruce had interviewed Eileen Gray, she didn’t think the interview was published or that he’d written up his notes.
My story was taking shape. I could use the known facts and build fiction around them.
I wrote The Interview in interview format, opening with Bruce Chatwin strolling along the banks of the Seine on his was to his 3 o’clock appointment at 21 rue Bonaparte. The first draft took longer than it should as I’d to stop and start to handle my other writing businesses – writing workshops in UCD; online and around the country, as well as editing manuscripts.
There are several stages to my writing :
(i) The idea/thoughts/notes/preliminary research (if necessary)
(ii) First draft – I know Stephen King says it should take no longer than a season. But??
(iii) Re-write, and as many more re-writes as are necessary
(iv) Rest – a little break away from routine is deserved at this stage; back at desk read over again.
(v) When I know I cannot improve on the manuscript it goes to a professional editor. I use the time to go around bookstores – the best place to carry out market research.
(vi) Then begins the task of selling….selling…selling.
I was cheered – if a writer can be cheered by the positive rejections – compliments on structure and writing – one for the same reason as, he said, he’d have turn down Hilary Mantel – characters lacking credibility.
In the end two publishers expressed interest. I was delighted one of them was New Island Books who’d already published my Writing for Success.
(c) Patricia O’Reilly
About The Interview
Paris 1972. Eileen Gray, Irish designer and architect now in her 90s, is the reluctant darling of the international media, second time around. After years of living in reclusive oblivion the record breaking price paid for her Destiny screen in the Doucet sale has her back in the news.
Bruce Chatwin, young, rising star of Fleet Street, spends two hours closeted with her in her apartment. Why wasn’t the interview published? What happened between them that afternoon? In this brilliant new novel, Patricia O’Reilly explores that event and imagines what happened between the two.
The Interview is available online from New Island.
Writing is in Patricia O’Reilly’s blood. When she was a child she dreamed of having a book for sale in a bookshop with her name on its cover. And like the best of dreams, it came to pass. In her time as well as fiction and non fiction books she has written acres of newspaper and magazine features; radio plays and documentaries; scores of Sunday Miscellany pieces; and dozens of short stories.