Vulpes Libris classic: interview with novelist and Virginia Woolf expert, Susan Sellers

Also I have always wanted a sister and am fascinated by the sisters relationship especially as they were gifted so differently. Vulpes Libris classic: interview with novelist and Virginia Woolf expert, Susan Sellers
I didn’t quite know what to pick for my first Vulpes Libris Classic choice – Simon speaking, by the way – so I thought I’d go through the archive and see what was published on 17 February in previous years. I’m surprised that fiction is harder to get published than non, I would’ve thought it was the other way around. Editors have to get your book approved by a whole array of people in-house before it can go ahead, including those responsible for calculating profit-margins: a job I can only imagine will get harder in the current financial climate. Just this weekend the papers have been full of Jill Dawson’s The Great Lover, a novel about Rupert Brooke. I think the honest answer is that I felt more comfortable writing from Vanessa’s point of view! Was it a relatively smooth journey from page to publication? ?

Colin parker February 19, 2009

Wonderful interview

Cheryl Heneveld February 20, 2009

I too am a fan of Virginia and Vanessa and a member of the International Virginia Woolf Society since 1993. When I look back on my own childhood, what I remember is all the hours I spent with my sisters. I’ll add you all to the prize draw (excepting Gail, Sharon and Bookfoxes!). Lovely to have new faces here on Vulpes Libris. Patty February 21, 2009

Please enter me in the drawing. The characters Susan builds up are totally believable, I could imagine myself lounging in the garden or at a party with the illustrious, complicated writers and painters of Bloomsbury. I quite like fictional interpretations of famous literary figures. the ‘truth’ of these books is the kind of truth that you hope to find in a novel – truths of insight, empathy and imagination, not truths of historical fact. Though I have given myself a good deal of poetic licence in the novel, everything I have written is underpinned by serious research on materials that are held in the public domain: novels, paintings, but also published diaries and correspondence. I am interested in winning a copy of Susan Sellers’ book. Thanks Lisa & Ms. Several recent biographies have included a good deal of fictional speculation – and mine is not the only new novel about real people. Can’t wait to read it. How have you found the publishing industry? A

Lisa February 17, 2009

Thanks for commenting, Abigail. I have been to Rodmell and Charleston several times. ?

Jackie February 18, 2009

I remember the review of V&V and it’s great to get some background on the author, who is an interesting person.She must have a lot of courage to write about a real person, that would be much more difficult than making someone up, it would be a bit intimidating, too. Uli, if you email your address to your free copy of V&V will soon wing its way to you. Patty

amandasue February 21, 2009

I’d love a chance to read this thank you. Many thanks for the informing interview and good luck with the book. – and was it what you expected it to be? What are you writing at the moment? Enjoy! Why did Vanessa – who was loved by many – spend her life in thrall to the homosexual painter Duncan Grant, a man who could never reciprocate her feelings? We do have many letters by Vanessa and a few essays, but their style is more prosaic and not as familiar to me as Virginia’s. I often think my writing – whether academic or fictional – is fired by questions. Please enter me in the giveaway, thanks! Lyttonpernel February 18, 2009

What an interesting interview – it has spurred me to buy the book, if I don’t win it! We know so much about Virginia and her sister – and yet there are still so many questions we don’t have answers to. I have read and enjoyed biographies of both of the Stephen’s sisters. Speaking for myself, I have had quite enough of the recent spate of misery memoirs! I’m also aware that whenever I answer it I come up with a different list! They’d be thrilled if you spoke to them, so please do so if it ever happens. Alex Pheby February 19, 2009

Just thought I’d add some more great fictionalised bios for those who are interested:
Penelope Fitzgerald – The Blue Flower ( German romanticist poet/novelist/philosopher Novalis)
Janice Galloway – Clara (Clara Schumann – pianist and wife of the famous Robert)
Alex Pheby – Schreber in Dosen (D.P.Schreber, famous German schizophrenic high court judge)
That last one isn’t quite finished yet, but look out for it ?

Phil Neale February 19, 2009

Looking forward to reading this particularly as it is written from Vanessa’s viewpoint, as an artist and not a writer. Well done. I’m writing another novel, purely fictional this time. K. Many thanks and good luck! Would love to win a copy of the book! No need to enter me in for the prize drawer as I have my own copy. Welcome, Susan. I look forward to reading this book. Susan Sellers is an editor of Virginia Woolf’s writing for Cambridge University Press and a Professor of English at the University of St Andrews. Last year we reviewed Susan’s excellent novel, Vanessa and Virginia, and we are thrilled that Susan can join us today. She has published many non-fiction books, including A History of Feminist Literary Criticism, a collection of interviews with the French writer   Hélène Cixous, and a study of Myth and Fairy Tale in Contemporary Women’s Fiction. Sellers for a lovely interview. Ruth Leckie February 18, 2009

I’m looking forward to reading the book. It will be interesting to compare the novel to the biographies. I do worry that all this means that some of the more interesting, unusual books simply aren’t making it into print – or that if they are, the authors don’t then sell enough to continue. But the trend for fictional bios is one I definitely like, so I hope it continues for awhile. My sister and I visited Charleston and Rodmell a few years ago and I continue to be fascinated by the Stephen sisters’ relationship. It seems to be the case that even if an editor likes your work, this in itself isn’t enough to guarantee publication. There are many precedents for this sort of novel. Charles Whaley February 18, 2009

Please enter me for the giveaway. Thank you and thank Stuart for alerting us to the new book. I like the thought of sitting opposite someone reading your book. Please add me in the giveaway. It’s also being translated at the moment and I’m very curious to see what it will look like in Russian or Korean…. Peter Clinch February 18, 2009

Sounds a fascinating book. I didn’t know about Linda Lappin’s book so thank you for that – I’ll look out for it. Spotting the novel in bookshops was rather terrifying!)
I’ve often wondered how I’d feel if I found myself sitting opposite someone reading my book! Uli! I have read all Virginia’s novels but know nothing about Vanessa or art. I will certainly hunt it down if I am not successful. I also liked the idea of writing from the viewpoint of a painter. Please enter me in the giveaway! Anyway, today, my answer is:
Virginia Woolf’s The Waves
Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea
Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Gabriel Josipovici’s Contre-Jour
Helen Dunmore’s Mourning Ruby
Oh, dear, that’s six already…. In this genre, the recently published ‘the Great Lover’ about Rupert Brooke sounds interesting
Virginia and Venessa are both strong yet engaging characters. The structure is daring, at times interestingly opaque, a bit like an impressionist/abstract painting. Would I confess I was the author, or would I keep quiet? There again, the fact that Vanessa is the elder of the two sisters probably made me gravitate towards her. Great interview. To begin with, I’m very interested in the creation of this brilliant yet unusual novel, which characterises Virginia Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell. Thanks. Bre February 17, 2009

Great interview! Thanks again to Susan Sellers, who was a delight to interview. Virginia Woolf’s style is so distinctive and I know her work so well, that I think if I had written from her point of view I might well have ended up with literary pastiche. Phil

Moira February 19, 2009

Nice subtle plug Alex. Dorothy W. In my professional life, I manage an edition of Virginia Woolf’s writing. I spent a lot of time looking at Vanessa’s pictures and drawings, and I talked to friends who are artists about how they work. I always find this question impossibly hard. Did you know that you can buy Virginia Woolf boxer shorts – or how about a Virginia Woolf barbecue apron?! As an editor, you have to be 100% fastidious and accurate – in my novel about Virginia and her sister Vanessa, I could allow myself all kinds of freedoms. I’m not sure I could have written The Uncommon Reader, for example. I don’t know what to put on your website line. (For me, one of the best moments was seeing Prince Rupert’s Teardrop available in various libraries. There has been too much ‘bizarre’ writing, as described, from Virginia’s viewpoint so to have it from the other direction is welcome. P.S You’re more than welcome to add this to your blog, Margaret ?

Margaret Gosden February 18, 2009

If I am lucky, my address is ****
(note from a co-admin – have made a note of your address, and removed from the site, just in case any stalkers/burglars are lurking. Because it surely works by different rules from traditional biography. Hope that V&V does well and that America welcomes it and it’s author warmly. I sometimes think that writing Vanessa and Virginia was an antidote to the more painstaking aspects of this work! Meg89 @ Literary Menagerie February 17, 2009

What a great interview! How did you come to write Vanessa and Virginia? I am very much looking forward to her next book too. Sharon February 18, 2009

Jackie – nonfiction sells in greater quantity on average than fiction (as we’re learning to our cost at Two Ravens Press, specialising in literary fiction like Susan’s as we do!) and is easier to ‘sell’ within a big publishing company too as it’s more clearly targeted to a specific audience and so they can make their projections more realistic. Susan February 18, 2009

Great to have so many comments! Why did Virginia drown herself at the age of almost sixty? Congrats and many thanks to all of the entrants. Therefore I would really like to read this novel and this point of view of the two artists, if I were lucky enough and accepted to the prize draw. For more details, including a list of forthcoming appearances, please visit her website here. Alice Lowe February 18, 2009

I’m looking forward to V&V as well as to reading the two of Susan’s 6 current favorites that I haven’t read, as I share her love for the other 4. Related

33 comments on “Vulpes Libris classic: interview with novelist and Virginia Woolf expert, Susan Sellers”

abigail fisher February 17, 2009

Hi book-foxes! Hope I am lucky with the book. Please recommend five of your favourite books. Lisa February 22, 2009

And the winner is…. Vulpes Libris would like to welcome novelist, Susan Sellers. Why did you choose to write from Vanessa’s point of view rather than Virginia’s? I’d published quite a few books – mostly academic non-fiction – before Vanessa and Virginia, and I was surprised by how hard I found it to publish fiction. I have no webside, if that’s what you mean. Bex February 17, 2009

I ADORE Virginia Woolf and look forward to reading this book! Personally, I’ve always thought Freud paid far too much attention to the role parents play in the difficult transition from infant to adult. I think I would have found it difficult to invent so freely if either sister had still been alive. Susan taught me at St Andrews and continues to inspire me. The Diaries and Letters of Woolf reveal a deep ,sometimes ambiguous but everlasting relationship between the two sisters. Liz F February 24, 2009

Vanessa and Virginia is a great book. Vanessa and Virginia is being published in America in May and the trip to New York will certainly be a highlight. There is no justice in the publishing world (as we’ve also learned to our cost etc etc!)

Gail Toms February 18, 2009

I really enjoyed the interview and had the privilege of reviewing V&V when it was first release. The characters are objects of imaginative recreation by both writer and reader, and in the course of that process they inevitably cut loose from whatever they might have been historically. I live in the NYC, US. From a Woolf fan interested in winning a copy of Susan Sellers’ book. Have already added it to my Amazon wish list……

Sarah February 18, 2009

Nice interview. Perhaps some of your readers have thoughts on whether this might be the case – or what they see the new trends as being? Again Woolf makes an appearance. As an expert on Woolf, were you nervous about how Vanessa and Virginia would be received by your contemporaries? Please enter my name for the giveaway. Lisa February 18, 2009

Welcome, everyone! I think I understood the deep feelings of responsibility often inculcated in the eldest child – as well as the frustration and resentment when a younger sibling steals the limelight! I really enjoyed Vanessa and Virginia, and found it incredibly moving, so it’s great to hear something about what went into writing it. She lives with her composer husband and ten-year-old son near Cambridge and is currently trying to learn to meditate. And from the Virginia Woolf Society I know about Susan Sellers. And yet that continual jockeying for position throughout our formative years is surely a crucial aspect of the way our personalities are formed… And that’s certainly one of the really fascinating things about V & V for me – the way that their relationship never really settles – they’re still manouvering around each other even in their late 50s…
Yes, there does seem to be a lot of fictional biography out there at the moment, or fiction about historical characters might be a better way to put it. They were wonderful siblings sharing love and art in a time when they were expected to be” the angel in the house.” I wish to be entered in the drawing. Lisa.)

Pamela Elliott February 18, 2009

would love to win a copy of this book. Woolf produced many drafts of her work – and because she was published by the Press she owned with her husband Leonard, she had ample opportunity to make alterations even once the publication process had started. There was that story, wasn’t there, about Doris Lessing being rejected by her UK publishers – until she won the Nobel Prize! I don’t think it’s only new writers who are affected either – I was talking to a crime novelist recently who told me that when she was first published it was considered perfectly respectable for a first novel to sell 1,000 copies, but that these days you have to sell at least 10,000 copies before a publisher will invest in you again. Stead’s ‘Mansfield’, based on the life of Katherine Mansfield during the years 1914-1918, with Virginia Woolf as one of the characters depicted. Share this:TwitterFacebookPinterestEmailPrintGoogleLike this:Like Loading… To be honest, such a bizarre industry has grown up around Virginia Woolf that I wasn’t nervous about what I’d done. Susan does not intervene while exploring these characters in any judgemental way, as a reader you make your own conclusions – admirable! Thanks for writing it Susan. Sarie February 17, 2009

Interesting interview – thanks. It’s true, you read so much about the importance of mother and father-figures, but hardly anything about siblings. It’s about a woman who runs her own artists’ agency so perhaps I haven’t quite let go of Vanessa…. Margaret Gosden February 18, 2009

Would love to add this news to my Virginia Woolf, Current News and Views Blog. Did you expect any resistance to a novel that was fiction, but which characterised real people? Though these books do tend to start from a sympathetic and convincing evocation of the characters’ milieu, it’s not ultimately about complete accuracy and fidelity to the historical record. Pamela

Uli February 18, 2009

I am a great fan of Virginia Woolf and of the painter Vanessa Bell. One of the most successful was C. (Though V and V’s mother doesn’t come out of it very well!) Thoroughly recommended. One of the aims of the edition is to present readers with a record of these changes – which means we can spend a great deal of our time tracing minute textual details, such as the appearance and disappearance of commas. Now, I must go and look for those Virginia boxer shorts…

Gerri Kimber February 18, 2009

A fascinating interview. She is as invigorating in the flesh as she is through her pen. In fact, the episodes and snapshots of Vanessa’s life are very painterly in the way they are written, if that makes sense. Back on 17 February 2009, this interview with Susan Sellers appeared – and it seemed like a fab choice. Vanessa, on the other hand, was often described by contemporaries as the silent sister – a woman of relatively few words. I’ve been thinking all those years fighting it out with my own younger sister when we were growing up. People always like to speculate about trends in fiction, and I wonder if we aren’t currently seeing a cross-over between biography and fiction. I’ve always been a fan of Virginia but I know almost nothing about Vanessa. I agree with what you say about siblings, and i know where you’re coming from when you say “the ‘truth’ of these books is the kind of truth that you hope to find in a novel – truths of insight, empathy and imagination, not truths of historical fact.” Yes, I couldn’t have phrased that better. Another motivation was undeniably the endless fascination of Bloomsbury. Looking forward to the next one – keep ’em coming! Pingback: Susan Sellers rethinks Vanessa and Virginia « Blogging Woolf It is a fascinating read and it was a stroke on inspired genius to take Vanessa as the focal point. Has there been a particular highlight of your writing career? February 19, 2009

Vanessa and Virginia looks great — count me in for the drawing! Finally, I’m the eldest of three sisters, and I have certainly experienced first-hand the fierceness and competitiveness this relationship can involve. Would love to have a chance to win the book. I look forward to the next novel. More recently there has been Linda Lappin’s ‘Katherine’s Wish’, which starts where Stead’s book ends and continues on till Mansfield’s death in Fontainebleau in 1923.