6 Questions with Lucy Foley

We asked Lucy Foley, author of The Invitation, six questions about being a writer and her favourite books!

1. What was your inspiration for writing this book?
It was actually an advertisement in The Paris Review for a trip aboard a yacht, where you could pay to stay aboard and sail the Mediterranean listening to various speakers. Something about it caught at my imagination; I loved the idea of a group of creative, cultured characters collected together at sea - an idyll, in some respects, but also potentially rather claustrophobic. I realise it could be a crucible for the formation of intense relationships. In such close confines, people might get to know one other more rapidly - and perhaps get to know too much. They might fall out, or they might fall in love… 

2. What were the main challenges that you faced when writing this book?
I wanted to set the tranquillity of the scenery and the glamour of the film world against the recent past: a Europe still recovering from the trauma of WW2, still raw in memory. Many of the characters have been touched or entirely changed by war. It was something of a balancing act to work these light and dark elements together in a narrative that might surprise the reader, and make them think, but never jar. 

3. As a child or teenager, did you want to be a writer and if so, is it as you expected?
I did, but the idea of doing it for a job seemed too good to be true! Though I knew I enjoyed writing, I wasn't certain that I was actually any good at it. I wrote quite a bit, but I never showed anyone anything - it was more for fun, for me. My previous book, The Book of Lost and Found, was the first thing I wrote with the intention of anyone else reading it. As for whether the writer life meets expectations, I have to say that it exceeds them. I love it, and can’t quite believe that it’s what I sit down to do each day! I do wonder whether I should acquire some more decadent writerly habits though, such as writing in bars, or lying down, like Truman Capote… 

4. Who are the writers that have influenced you?
Katherine Mansfield, LP Hartley, F Scott Fitzgerald, E M Forster, Kate Atkinson, Rose Tremain, William Boyd, Sebastian Faulks. These may seem a disparate list but looking at them now I realise they all share certain elements: the ability to create absolutely credible, living, breathing, step-off-the-page characters, whether that be the thirteen-year-old boy in Hartley’s The Go Between, the young male musician in Tremain’s Music and Silence, the female photographer in Boyd’s Sweet Caress or the earnest, ardent Schlegel sisters in Forster’s Howard’s End. I love plot, but for me everything stems from character, the plot grows from and around them, is driven by them. They can’t simply be placed into it, like figures in a doll’s house. 

5. What's in your reading pile currently?
It’s a big one, but key current and next-reads include: Marie, by Madeleine Bourdouxhe - a rerelease of a wonderfully scandalous 1940s book that should have been a classic, The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain, one of my favourite authors. Simon Mawer’s Tightrope, Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must be the Place, and Benjamin Wood’s The Ecliptic (found in Wenlock Books!). Oh, and a mountain of research for Book 3! 

6. What's your favourite book of all time?
The Magus, by John Fowles. A gloriously strange, brilliant, disturbing book: worthy of re-visiting multiple times, because it reveals new elements with each reading.