A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Gail Crowther (Author of Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz)

with Dr. Gail Crowther : Author of Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath & Anne Sexton

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Gail: I first started writing when I was probably about 6 or 7, mainly poems to various family members and making little books of poems. At that age I read vocariously and loved poetry anthologies with a mix of all sorts of poets and poems. Then this progressed to extremely serious teenage poetry and short stories that were all about death, dying, and how world-weary I was aged 15. My main influences at this time were Plath, the Brontës, and anything with a whiff of gothic. By the time I got to university, I realised I was more comfortable writing non-fiction and became interested in writing about people, places, and objects. But I was fascinated by academics who were somehow able to keep the creative in their writing, people like Annette Kuhn, Caroline Steadman, and Alison Light.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Gail: I have such a wide range of influences and I read across so many genres because I do believe strongly that writers should do this. Somehow immersing yourself as a reader does feed into your writing as you tend to synthesise everything you expose yourself to. So, I read academic texts, lots of poetry, lots of contemporary fiction in many genres such as classics, crime, thrillers, or what is often called ‘chick-lit’. I also recently started reading more YA fiction, as well as biographies, books about art, and photography. All of these things influence me. Even writers I don’t particularly enjoy influence me because I can think about ways in which I don’t want to write, or messages I don’t want to give out. The most recent set of books I read which blew me away were Ali Smith’s quartet Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer. To be able to write like that would be a dream and to make politics so beautiful, and not preachy, well, I was completely in awe.

Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Gail: Not really, no. It just always seemed to be lurking there, unquestioned. I still have a Student of the Week poster from when I was aged 8 and one of the questions on there was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and my answer was “A writer.”

Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?

Gail: This is a big question! There are so many people who have helped in so many different ways. I’m sure other writers will agree that sometimes emotional support is just as important as professional support and I have been lucky to get both. Whether that’s good friends, or my parent delivering meals for me when I’ve been deep in a chapter and not wanting to stop and cook, through to my agent Carrie and editor Alison who always, always treat me kindly and with so much support that I completely trust them to not only be great judges of my work, but to do it in such a way that it feels a really positive collaboration. I have learned so much from them about how a book works, how a narrative works, and now when I write I have their voices in my head and given what a lonely profession it can be, that feels very comforting somehow. There is also George, my dog, who has been with me for every word I have written since 2012, and I couldn’t ask for a better side-kick (though some days his snoring is a bit off-putting).   

Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from home influence your work?

Gail: I grew up by the sea in the north of England, and like Plath, always feel that the sea is a part of my consciousness in some way. I’ve lived in many other cities, and in other countries too, but I am happiest when I am by the sea which somehow feeds into my work, but I honestly couldn’t say how. Perhaps mostly in a practical way. I start every day with a walk on the beach and George has a swim and I mentally plan the day ahead. Or if I get stuck with work I go to the beach, and this usually sorts things out. There’s something about the sea that relaxes the mind. Or opens it up.

Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?

Gail:  I think there are two pieces of work – my first solo book The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath was my attempt to bring the creative into an academic piece of work. I was utterly absorbed in this for a good four years of my life as it began as my PhD thesis and was then adapted into a book. I loved every minute. It was when I first encountered the notion of sociological hauntings and ghostly elements of social life which formed a framework for so much of my subsequent work after that. I just wanted to explore what it is about Plath that captures so many people. Using Jacqueline Rose’s idea that Plath is a ghost that haunts our culture, I wanted to carry on that story to find out what happens to that ghostly figure when it is let loose in our culture? What do readers do with such a ghost? But my latest book Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton is also especially meaningful to me as I used a very different writing style and I had a lot of fun creating a thematic dual biography by merging two stories to show certain similarities and differences between the two poets.

Q7: Favorite activities to relax?

Gail: Reading just about anything. Watching films and (mostly American) TV, hanging around on the beach, eating crisps, watching massively dramatic operas, travelling to new places, playing games with George, buying shoes.

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?

Gail: “I simply cannot see where there is to get to” from “The Moon and the Yew Tree” by Plath. On the surface it seems quite desolate, but actually it kind of depends on mood. If I’m melancholic, I appreciate the slight despondency of it. But if I’m looking for a way ahead, I like the quest aspect – where exactly is there to get to? Who knows…

Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?

Gail: I’ve started work on a new book which I hope will be announced very soon and is due to be published in 2023 by Gallery Books ׀ Simon & Schuster, New York. Writing and researching during a pandemic is rather unique and somewhat challenging, but I am so happy and privileged to be working on this project. If anyone would like to follow my updates, or just chat about writing, I’m on Twitter – @gail_crowther and on Instagram – crowther_gail (though you’ll have to put up with lots of pictures of George and my new shoes as well as writing updates.)

https://amzn.to/2TKLPF6 link to Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz on U.S. Amazon