I am so excited to present this interview with Margot Livesey, author of Eva Moves the Furniture and many other novels (including her latest, Mercury.) I reviewed Eva Moves the Furniture in an earlier post, and I wanted to ask Margot how she came to write the novel, which encompasses so much: a fascinating ghost story, a tender mother-daughter novel, and the chronicle of a woman discovering who she is.
You mention on your web site that this novel took you 13 years to write. Why? What difficulties did you experience?
Margot: I had already written and published one novel, Homework, when I began Eva Moves the Furniture. The novel was based on the life of my mother who died when I was two and a half and, naively, I thought that the material was so interesting—my dead mother! ghosts! —that I didn’t really need to do anything to keep the readers’ attention. It took me years to figure out that I needed a plot and a conflict and all the things novels usually need.
How closely did you stick to your mother’s life? How much inventing did you do?
Margot: I know very little about my mother’s life so most of the novel is invented. I do regret that for artistic reasons I had to change some of the few facts that I did have. The real Eva actually spent much of the Second World War working as a nurse in London and not, as she does in my novel, in Glasgow. And I brought forward the timing of her marriage, my birth and her death.
The ghostly companions are a major part of this novel. Are they based on fact?
Margot: Yes. Among the handful of stories I have about Eva is one in which she sees “people” who are largely invisible to those around her. I found this fascinating and also the fact that my adopted father, who told me this story, described Eva’s attitude to these “people” as very matter of fact.
I think this novel could be classified as magical realism. What do you think?
Margot:I would agree although not the kind of magical realism in which many strange things happen—Eva’s world is just like ours except for one major difference.
Do you feel like writing this novel brought you closer to your mother?
Margot: Writing the novel did make me feel, for the first time, that I had a mother. But it also obliterated the historical person with the fictional character I’d created.
This feels like a deeply spiritual book, although religion and spirituality are not overtly discussed. Did you mean for it to be a spiritual book?
Margot: Yes. When I finally found my way to the version of the novel that exists between covers I realized that a major theme of the novel was about our relationships with the dead which must surely be a spiritual question for everyone over a certain age.
What was your research process like?
Margot: Research was what finally enabled me to write the novel. For many years I had thought that the novel would be purely imagined but then it finally dawned on me that Eva had grown up into the Second World War. I began to do research in books and archives which led me to the discovery of the role plastic, or reconstructive, surgery had played during the War as doctors operated on the many casualties of the Blitz and the Battle of Britain. And that research in turn led me to my plot.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about historical fiction or this particular book?
Margot: After my many years of struggling with Eva, it makes me very happy that it is out in the world and still finding readers. The novel was published on 9/11—a very dark day—and for several months no one was thinking much about fiction, but then people began to write to me saying that they had read Eva and found it comforting. Of course death changes everything, but we do still have a relationship with the dead. We keep talking to them and that relationship keeps changing, and growing.
Thank you, Margot, for these interesting thoughts about life and death, and how to turn fact into fiction. For more about Margot, please see her web site: http://margotlivesey.com/