The “Lucky” Ones – An interview with The Innocents novelist Francesca Segal

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of my next interviewee’s book in the mail. Embarrassingly, it sat unread at the top of my book pile longer than I intended. When I finally picked it up, I was only sorry I hadn’t read it sooner. And now that I’ve had the pleasure of reading her book, I can finally introduce you to author Francesca Segal.

Francesca Segal

Photo by Nick Seaton

Growing up, London-born author Francesca Segal spent much of her time between the UK and America. First establishing herself as a journalist, she contributed to publications like Vogue, the Guardian, and Newsweek. Her debut novel, The Innocents, was released last year and received praise from the ObserverPublishers Weekly, and People magazine to name a few.

As is often the case with writers, Francesca’s love for words came at an early age. Crediting her father Erich Segal, author and screenwriter of the bestseller-turned-box-office-hit Love Story, Francesca recalls practicing mock interviews as young as age four. The bug has stayed with her since.

The Innocents is a stunning novel about commitment, betrayal, and family ties. With her exquisite prose and witty storytelling, Francesca elegantly captures the complex inner workings of a loving yet dysfunctional family. It’s a captivating story and, hopefully, the first of many for Francesca.

Welcome, Francesca!

Every published author, it seems, gets well-intentioned but maddening comments from others such as, “Oh, how fun! I wish I had time to write a book.” Does it drive you crazy? What do you say to those people?

It used to bother me far more before I was published, because I felt intimidated by all of them. But now I just understand it’s how people are. I’m married to a scientist and he gets exactly the same thing – when he talks about his work, everyone asks where he’s “studying”. No one can understand that being a scientist is a job, not an extended degree. And no one really thinks writing is either.

What these people don’t seem to realize is that this kind of undertaking is about shifting priorities and making sacrifices. What did you have to sacrifice to write your novel?

I turned down a lot of work; I turned down a lot of social engagements, and I lived like a hermit for a very long time – blissfully – but quite isolated. And of course you have to finish a first novel before you can sell it, so you’re doing a huge amount on trust. It’s hard to quantify, but it is an enormous undertaking.

Many people assume fiction writing is heavily inspired by the author’s life. Is that at all true for you?

It’s true that people assume that, but my novel is very much fiction and not remotely inspired by my own life, or my own family. The tapestry beneath the story – the community I’ve described, is one that I know very well, and that social climate is drawn from real life. But that’s it. No real people.

The Innocents

Does the current state of the publishing industry create pressure for you to be successful? Have you had a lot of support?

I’ve had wonderful support from my publishers everywhere, and so I have nothing to compare it to. But yes, I think now that everyone can see sales figures at a keystroke, there is less opportunity for a slow trajectory to success. Authors are expected to get further, faster.

How do you deal with negative reviews?

Lie face-down on the sofa in fit of abject misery and self-pity, rant about it to my husband, then pull my socks up and get on with it. I’ve been very lucky, in general, I think. But you can’t listen to every voice.

What was it like finally seeing your book on shelves? Did it live up to your expectations?

It was heartstopping. It’s all I’ve dreamed of for so long, it was almost impossible to process.

How much of the time spent on your novel was dedicated to revision? And are you ever truly done, or do you just have to make the decision to let things be as they are?

About half and half, I think. No, I believe the maxim that books are never finished, merely abandoned. At some point you feel you are doing more harm than good with your revisions, and then you stop.

Francesca Segal

Photo by Tom Craig

“Writer’s block” is a much debated-over topic. What’s your take on it?

I sometimes think labelling it akin to pathologising it. I would try and just call it a hard week/month at work, which we all have sometimes, and know that it will pass. “Writers’ block” sounds terminal.

Besides your own, of course, what are some of your favorite books?

I love Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie; Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels; I adore Jane Gardam, AS Byatt, Jennifer Egan, AM Homes, Naomi Alderman, Hilary Mantel – I could keep going, and those are just the contemporary novelists.

For you, what is the greatest reward for writing and exposing your work to others?

It’s wonderful to hear that a work has touched readers, and hearing their reactions is amazing after crafting something alone for so long. Everyone finds something different in your work, and it’s a privilege to talk about it. But being able to do the work is the greatest reward – that how this book has done means I can go away and write another book.

Do you have any advice for aspiring or struggling novelists?

It’s not very original but reading is the key to everything – you must be a passionate reader in order to write. Everything you need to know about beautiful prose, about crafting a character, about pacing a plot, can all be found in the Canon.

 

Thanks so much for sharing your insight, Francesca. I’m always fascinated  by the writer’s process. Were you equally as fascinated with Francesca’s interview? Let her know in the comments!

Do you think you or someone you know would be a good fit for The “Lucky” Ones series? I’m on the hunt! Check out past interviews, then shoot me an email at wittycassiehere [at] gmail [dot] com.