British novelist Rachel Joyce’s 2012 debut, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,” the story of one man’s trek of more than 600 miles to see a dying friend, became an international bestseller and landed on the long list for the Man Booker Prize. Joyce, who spent her early career acting and dramatizing plays, has produced nearly a novel a year since. In January she published her fourth, “The Music Shop,” which follows an unexpected romance in a London record store in 1988.
BOOKS: What books do you keep in your office?
JOYCE: I work in the middle of a field in a caravan, which is like a little iron structure on wheels. I have some books out there that are important, and I might want to dip into. Always something I just read. I only just read Annie Proulx’s “The Shipping News,” which I adored. I don’t know how I missed that before but I did. It’s great when you discover something not in the mad rush of it but all by yourself. You can have a private relationship with the book. The other writer I have with me a lot is Kent Haruf. I like to think he might just sit with me and make me a better writer if he’s in close proximity.
BOOKS: Are you partial to American authors?
JOYCE: I’ve become more so. I’ve been thinking about that quality Raymond Carver has or Alice Munro in Canada does, that kind of everyday living in a very big landscape so that the very small takes on a bigger context. For English readers and writers it’s really compelling because we live in such a tiny country. Finding the way to give the small its size is a challenge because small can become cliché and silly. I remember reading Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” and my mind was blown by the size of the setting.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
JOYCE: I just started Paul Hardy’s “Tinkers.” I adore it. Another writer I want to mention is Penelope Fitzgerald. “Offshore” is brilliant and is about the owners of barges on a London dock. She does something like Elizabeth Strout, writers who kind of do jazz with words, or Marilynne Robinson’s “Housekeeping.”
BOOKS: Do you primarily read novels?
JOYCE: I like to read poetry too. Mary Oliver does something for me. It’s that sort of taking the natural world and finding a way of strapping words around it. She does that for me. Thomas Hardy does too, and T.S. Eliot always, always. My husband is a therapist so though I don’t read Carl Jung I have a lot of Jung read to me.
BOOKS: Are you attracted to books that feature a journey?
JOYCE: Yes. When I was at school I wanted to do history, but there weren’t enough books to go around so I had to do Latin. It meant that I studied Homer’s “The Odyssey” and Virgil’s “The Aeneid.” That had a very big effect on me, as did Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”
BOOKS: What other books were pivotal for you growing up?
JOYCE: When I was a very little child, about 3 or 4, my parents came over to the States and lived there for 18 months. I still remember the books we had when we were there. You know that vanilla-y smell pictures books from the ’60s can have? The book based on the Albert Lamorisse film “The Red Balloon” was one.
BOOKS: What are your reading habits?
JOYCE: When I’m reading a book I like to put bus tickets or notes into it. I try to keep them in there so they become a memory of that particular time when I was reading that book. I also read with a pen, always underlining things. I can’t help it. I think it’s because my mom was an English teacher.
BOOKS: What are you reading next?
JOYCE: I might go back to Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American.” I do have to read Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights.” I’m going to adapt that for radio. I’m lucky because I’ve adapted all the Brontës for radio over here. I think “Wuthering Heights” is going to be a bit like dramatizing poetry.
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