Host Rachel Martin speaks with British writer Tessa Hadley about her new collection of short stories, Married Love and Other Stories. Hadley teaches creative writing at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, and her stories regularly appear in The New Yorker magazine.
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. British writer Tessa Hadley doesn't much care for neat and tidy endings. She prefers to let the story to just rest wherever it lands. Sometimes, there is resolution - most of the time, though, she leaves it up to her readers to imagine for themselves how the story might end. Hadley is the author of four novels. Her second collection of short stories is called "Married Love," and it comes out this week. In it, Hadley takes her readers into the most intimate corners of her characters' lives: infidelity, shame, grief, unmet expectations. When I spoke with her, we started off talking about the first story in the book. It's about a teenaged girl named Lottie who falls for her married professor.
TESSA HADLEY: She's just fallen deeply in love with a certain form of power that he has, which is, I suppose, he's an artist, he's a composer. And that seems wonderfully authoritative to her youth. But she has all that growing up to do and instead of being a sort of threshold into a finer, higher, unearthly otherworldness, she goes and has babies, which blows the other otherworldly thing open and lands her right back down on earth, if you like. But what I wanted to do with the story, the obvious story would be that she's disappointed and he's awfully old and she sees that she's made a terrible mistake and just regrets it. And instead, at the end I think what I want readers to pick up is that something more mysterious than that has happened, and that's the note I left it on, which is not quite the note that one predicts, I think, from the opening.
MARTIN: No, it's unexpected. Her life takes some turns and the reader ends up having to take some turns too with our own expectations about this story.
HADLEY: That phrase - that's exactly what I love. And that's what writers just love. It's the twists and turning and unexpected bit that leads off to the left when you thought you were going right and then the dead end. And that's what I love to follow.
MARTIN: It's hard to read your stories and not feel the weight of the characters' class bearing down on the narrative in some way. And you really do write from both extremes. There are some uber-intellectual, very posh characters, and then there's a character like the woman Shelley in the story "Friendly Fire." And I'd love if you could just read a bit. Shelley is working with her friend Pam. They do cleaning for businesses, for corporations, and they're about to go on a job together.
HADLEY: (Reading) Pam always drove with the interior light on. She treated her car just like another room in her house. While she was driving, she'd fiddle around with piles of paper and bits of crocheted blankets and boxes of tissues on the passenger seat, hanging onto the steering wheel with her other hand. She was a danger on the road, but Shelley didn't drive. For a moment, before she headed over to the car, Shelley imagined herself as Pam was seeing her - just another pillar of dark, like the hedge and the phone books and the pebble-dashed end wall of the kitchen extension.
MARTIN: Something very sad about that paragraph.
HADLEY: Yes. I mean, I hope it's funny as well. I'd rather - I sort of always loved those people who do do that with their car and you really do feel alarmed as they're driving along...
MARTIN: Well, that's true.
HADLEY: ...(unintelligible) with them.
MARTIN: The people who live in their cars, yeah.
HADLEY: Yes, yes. But you're right, there's something deeply troubling in Shelley seeing herself as a pillar of dark there, and that's because inside her she just has this terrible grieving all the time for her son who - well, primarily he's a soldier in Afghanistan. So he could die at any point, though she doesn't even allow herself to acknowledge that that's her fear. She displaces the fear onto other fears. But it's also about your baby's growing up.
MARTIN: When a story idea like this comes to you, how do you know whether it's a short story or whether it's a novel. You write both.
HADLEY: I don't think you're ever in any doubt. When a story comes, you feel the whole thing, maybe not absolutely at once. Sometimes it comes in two or three parts. You have a spare part lying around for months or even years and you don't know what to do with it. And then suddenly some other piece comes and you've got it. But a novel's an enormous thing. It's like a great block of building instead of one room somehow. And I certainly know I could write short stories before I could do novels. I wrote two or three failed novels that have never seen the light of day, I'm very glad to say. I'm moving house now so I'm about to get rid of them. It's going to be very strange. They're looming at me from a shelf in a horrid old faded folder.
MARTIN: Oh no. What are you going to do with them?
HADLEY: I'm going to throw them in a black bag.
MARTIN: And just throw them in the trash?
HADLEY: Just in the trash. I don't even know whether to look at them at all. I think I might get very depressed if I look at them.
MARTIN: Your particular path to becoming a published author was not an easy one. You had a lot of rejections along the way. How did those rejections develop you as a writer?
HADLEY: They are such agony at the time. I had sort of funny, old-fashioned life, it now feels to me, between the ages of my early 20s and about 40 where I really was - I used to call myself a housewife. I was at home. I brought up children. And secretly, privately and rather shamefacedly I wrote. And then what I wrote then didn't get published. So, what do those rejections teach me? I suppose they taught the bottom-most lesson of all for writers, which is you try and stop, you can't stop. You say you'll stop, that's it. I failed. I can't do it. I'm going to do something else. And then three weeks later, you have a new idea for a new book and this one will be the right one. This'll be the one that works, and you do it again. And I can't really explain what that urge is, except that it's very, very strong.
MARTIN: Tessa Hadley. Her new book is called "Married Love and Other Stories." She joined us from the BBC in Cardiff, Wales. Tessa, thanks so much for taking time to talk with us. It was a pleasure.
HADLEY: It was a pleasure for me too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.