A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed

A Conversation with Author Louisa Hall of Newly-Released Novel “Speak”

January 23, 2016

I had the opportunity to interview Louisa Hall, the author of the popular novels “Speak” and “The Carriage House.”  Here are some highlights.


Do you write for others because you have to write or for yourself only?



For the most part, I write for myself.  I didn’t get an MFA, and I didn’t take creative writing classes in college, so for many years I wrote fiction and poetry as my own private pleasure while I pursued other careers.

Sometimes during those years I was anxious to have an audience, but now I’m so grateful that I had that time to develop my writing practice in private.  If I get preoccupied with what people will think of my work, I can always remind myself that for a long time I wrote for my own pleasure, and that was enough.  




How many days do you actually write, and how rigid you are about that schedule?

I write pretty much every day.  Sometimes I force myself to take days off but I end up being sort of miserable because I miss having that time at my desk.    


While writing, what kind of relationship do you often form with your own writing self – a painful or a joyful one?

While I’m writing, it’s generally pretty joyful.  I can be surprised by a turn of phrase or a character’s observation and feel delighted about it for hours.  After I’m finished for the day, though, I tend to get more critical as I’m reflecting on the work, and that can be a painful process.  


How do you recognize if you are on the wrong track?

Unfortunately, I often don’t recognize the wrong track until I’ve been on it for a long time.  I’ve finished four novels that I’ve thrown out.  That seems to be a part of my process, writing novels and throwing them out.  I wish I could understand earlier that they weren’t working.  


Are you affected by other people’s appraisal of your work? Have you ever been hurt by them?

My own appraisal of my own writing is usually more harsh than anyone else’s.  But it still hurts, hearing it from someone else.  


Do you feel you and the characters in your books have always been well understood by your readers?


The Carriage House

I guess I believe that once the characters are written, they’re no longer mine.  If a reader understands them differently than I did, that’s their prerogative.  Sometimes a reader tells me that she found one of my characters deeply unlikeable, and that tends to surprise me, because by the time I’m finished a book I generally have some love for all my characters, no matter how nasty they act.  But that’s OK—I’m fine with not being in control of my characters once they’re out in the world.  

As for me—I’m a fairly private person, and I’ve never really wanted to be understood by my readers.  I once read that Clarice Lispector described herself as a deeply private person with a constant need to confess, and I can relate to that.  


Do you lose yourself in your writing? The very fact that writing is a very lonely art, do you sometimes feel lonely?

When my writing is going well, I feel less lonely.  When it’s not going well, I feel lonely.  


What books are currently on your book stand?

I’m reading The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes, a fascinating study of science in the nineteenth century and its relationship to romantic poetry.  I’m also reading For The Time Being, by Annie Dillard.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the different approaches to the world offered by science and poetry.  Those books are helping me think.


What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

Ulysses.  Ugh.  Shame.  


What do you plan to read next?

I’ve been looking forward to reading The Door, by Magda Szabo.  Also Speedboat, by Renata Adler.


What is next for Louisa Hall and what would be next for Louisa Hall if the sky were the limit?

I’d like to write another novel.  Same old!  But for me right now, that feels like enough.  



Louisa Hall grew up in Philadelphia.  After graduating from Harvard, she played squash professionally while finishing her premedical coursework and working in a research lab at the Albert Einstein Hospital.  She holds a PhD in literature from the University of Texas at Austin, where she currently teaches literature and creative writing, and supervises a poetry workshop at the Austin State Psychiatric Hospital.  She is the author of the novels Speak and The Carriage House, and her poems have been published in The New Republic, Southwest Review, and other journals.

Get more info on her books and buy them here: http://louisahall.net/books/

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