John Haffenden talks to Emma Tennant by John Haffenden

John Haffenden

John Haffenden talks to Emma Tennant


One of today’s most exciting novelists, energetic, quick-thinking, positive, Emma Tennant is a writer to whom easy labels will not apply. Her published novels include Hotel de Dream, The Bad Sister, Wild Nights, and Queen of Stones (soon to be filmed by Channel 4), all of which have been praised for their poetic intensity, visionary power, wit, and thrilling penetration of psychology. She has a large amount of the quality of mind and the talent she herself once described in David Hockney – that ‘freedom lost by most people before childhood is out, a way of somersaulting.’

Born in 1937 into a famous family (Margot Asquith was her great-great-aunt), she spent her early years in Scotland, followed by an eccentric education which included a year at an idiosyncratic finishing school in Oxford, and then studied the history of art in Paris before becoming a debutante. She worked briefly on Queen and Vogue before publishing her first novel, The Colour of Rain, pseudonymously in 1964, then went on to contribute articles and short stories to The Listener, New Statesman and other periodicals, and in 1975 founded Bananas – a literary newspaper specifically designed to extend the range of imaginative writing in print – which she edited until the summer of 1978. Emma Tennant has two daughters and a son – Matthew Yorke, the grandson of Henry Green and himself a writer whose first novel has been extracted in Vogue and the current issue of the New Edinburgh Review. She lives with the writer Tim Owens in a comfortable and attractively bruised Victorian house off Ladbroke Grove, London.

Emma Tennant’s latest novel, Woman Beware Woman, is published by Jonathan Cape at £7.95.


You come from a socially prominent family, you were brought up in the Borders of Scotland – I imagine your family was comfortably off – and your early career took you through the glossy world of fashion and magazines. Yet your novels, such as Wild Nights and Alice Fell, show

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