Tracy Chevalier - Author Picture

Tracy Chevalier - Author

I was born in October 1962 and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here. My husband is English, and my son has an English accent.

As a child I often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote a few stories in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing “real” stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple of evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine went bankrupt 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered “big” enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, writing while also working as a freelance editor. I was lucky to find an agent relatively easily, and the book was published in England in 1997. It got a few small reviews, sold a few copies, then sank to the bottom of the pond to live with all of the other unnoticed novels. (It has since been republished in the UK, and published in the US and elsewhere.)

I began Girl with a Pearl Earring in February 1998 and completed it in October 1998, working full-time. Two weeks later I had my son. There’s nothing like a fixed biological deadline to focus the mind! I don’t think I’ll ever write anything so quickly again. Since then I’ve written two more novels: Falling Angels, which is set in a cemetery in early 20th-century London, and The Lady and the Unicorn, about a set of medieval tapestries.

I try to put the success of my previous books out of my head when I write. If I thought about it much I’d be paralyzed with the fear of everyone’s expectations of me. I still feel like a novice. Sometimes I read what I’ve just written and think, Yuck. Each book is just as hard to write as the previous. I might have a good writing day, but the next day I still have to face the blank sheet of paper. It’s a painful process but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s kind of like running – you feel terrible for those first 10 minutes but then it gets better and afterwards you feel great.

My greatest challenge is to juggle motherhood, writing, and the outside demands made on me as a writer. The best life for my writing is a quiet, boring one, with big chunks of time available in which to work. That is no longer easy to create!

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