Zoë Heller

When I asked my rather brilliant friend, Zoë Heller, author of ‘Notes on a Scandal’ (which was short-listed for the Booker Prize) if I could chat with her as part of my Extraordinary Lives series she said, “certainly not.”

But she did answer a few questions in writing. Read them. Its worth it.


Do you believe there is always a way forward?
No, not really. I mean, I believe in perseverance and making a good fist of things and all that. But I don’t believe the power of positive thinking conquers all.

When are you afraid?
When I encounter cockroaches.
When I have to do any sort of formal public speaking.
When I think too long and carefully about the future.

When do you fight?
When something or someone raises my ire. I must be mellowing with age because I can’t remember the last time I had a real knock down, drag out barney.

So many!
Getting my hair cut very short in my late twenties on the advice of a horrid boyfriend.
Never becoming fluent in another language.
The impulsive purchase of about a thousand ill-fitting and otherwise hideous garments.
(Also see ‘What I wish I’d done differently’ below.)

What would you tell your 14 year old self?
More or less what I tell my 15-year-old daughter now:
“This will pass.”
Also, “Imagine that your life is a novel and you are its heroine. Try to behave as you would want that heroine to behave.”

Have you ever been in deep trouble?
Well, these things are relative, aren’t they? By world standards, I’ve had a remarkably untroubled life. What troubles I’ve endured have been mostly self-inflicted.

Do you care what others think?
Not as much as I used to, I suppose. But then, I don’t aspire to not caring at all: I suspect some degree of interest in how others regard you is a crucial part of being sane.

What would be your greatest loss?
My children. Also, a pair of very useful Nine West boots that I bought five years ago.

What were your childhood dreams?
I definitely wanted to be a writer from an early age. But more than that, I yearned for adulthood.

What do you wish you had done differently?
I wish I had done more collaborative work – found ways to break up some of the solitariness of the writing life. I wish I had been kinder and more patient. I wish I had been readier to admit when I didn’t know something. I wish I had spouted off less and asked more questions. I could go on…

What made you different from other kids in school?
I was a horrible little show-off.

Favorite Virtue
Bravery (the moral and physical sort) and wit.

Chief characteristic
Inability to resist an argument.

Idea of happiness
I’m swimming in a warm sea at sunset. Just this afternoon, I finished writing a brilliant novel. A tall, dark, impossibly handsome man is standing on the sand, telling me to come in and drink the gin and tonic he has made for me.

Idea of misery

Pet aversion?
My daughters say my pet aversion is people walking slowly on crowded sidewalks.
I think it’s people who respond to “Thank you” with “Uh-huh,” rather than “You’re welcome.”

Present state of mind
Guarded optimism.

What fault can you not tolerate in others
It’s probably a tie between pomposity and miserliness.

As a woman do you think your strength of character has put people off?
Ha! Yes. It puts me off from time to time.

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