I read My Life in Middlemarch earlier this month and was absolutely thrilled when asked if I would like to interview the author for my blog. Rebecca Mead is a journalist and writer for The New Yorker so you can imagine how nervous I was to meet her. I was unfamiliar with her work before this book and after reading some of her articles I had a feeling that I would enjoy her writing style. My Life in Middlemarch is an interesting read, part biography, part memoir, Rebecca Mead tells the tale of how a book can help shape a life. The more I read this book, the harder I tried to think of a novel that affected me the same way that Middlemarch affected Rebecca. The only book that came to mind was Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson — it helps my find my voice each and every time.
My short walk from lunch to the Random House office was a nerve-wracking one. Yes, technically, it could be considered my old stomping grounds but Thursday I was back as an interviewer. I walked into the boardroom and felt immediately better as I was introduced to a petite English woman with a bright smile and firm handshake. In true Vanessa fashion I came well-equipped with a notebook, pen, and a Voice Notes app to document everything. As the questioning got underway I felt a little more assured of myself, and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.
Rebecca Mead is oozing with brilliance, she is a great storyteller and answered each question I asked with passion and honesty. I loved the way that she thought about her answers, as if she was sorting through a mental catalogue in her mind to find just the right words. I found myself staring at her, with my head on my hand, leaning into her words, trying to soak up her stories, her dreams for her book, and her thoughts about the writing world.
I hope readers will get some measure of the kind of experience I had writing it; which is one of great joy and discovery and recuperation of my own youth, my own mistakes, [a] reconciliation with my younger self.
She recounted her journey writing My Life in Middlemarch, the two years it took to conceive the idea and then the mere five months it took to write it. Once she got the book’s structure down she found it easy to write. Her passion for Middlemarch is something she called peculiarly close but it fuelled her desire to write this book. When I asked if her passion for the subject helped her writing she smiled and replied; “I like writing. Some writers are tortured, I’m not really tortured. I’ve never liked anything as much as I like this.”
The research she did for this book interested me most, the libraries she visited, spending time with George Eliot’s partner’s descendents, holding George Eliot’s writing pen, reading Eliot’s journal that smelt of a burning fire. “Am I smelling the fire that burned in George Eliot’s room as she sat in her parlour?” — she retold this moment with stars in her eyes and a gleeful smile on her face, as she fiddled absent-mindedly with her earrings. Reading Eliot’s journal was her “special effect moment”, something she referred to when I told her that I pictured her holding Eliot’s pen as the same moment as Harry Potter getting his first wand (I actually said that).
After our discussion about her book I asked her some writerly questions. “There was a British Journalist that said Being a journalist is the best way to see the world on someone else’s money. And I thought, yes, that is what I want to do”. We discussed how difficult it has become for young writers to make a name for themselves, how nowadays it’s difficult to make a living off of writing. She mentioned that some writers try to make a name for themselves at the expense of others. That’s not her thing, she’s more interested in comprehension. She tries to understand why people are a certain way, not expose them or their mistakes. My respect for her as a writer skyrocketed after that comment. She admitted that if she were my age right now she wouldn’t know what to do, her honesty moved me.
But if you’re a writer, you write, and you write as many places as you can. The same as we did in my day.
Thank you, Rebecca Mead for a truly unforgettable conversation. I found your honesty, passion, and humble disposition extremely refreshing. Thank you for the advice, for sitting through my questions, and for inspiring me beyond belief. Thank you to Scott and Lindsey from Random House of Canada for somehow thinking that I would be a good interviewer ;)!
Click here to read the synopsis of My Life in Middlemarch
Photo Credit: Random House of Canada