4thcoming: Claire Lowdon

Name: Claire LowdonLOWDON

Occupation: Assistant Editor of Arete

Book: Left of the Bang

What’s it about: For failing concert pianist Tamsin Jarvis, the pressure is mounting. She thought she was happy with her adoring schoolteacher boyfriend Callum, but when Chris comes into their lives, that starts to change. In a few months Chris will be gone, leaving for his first tour of Afghanistan. Nothing seems to be working out the way Tamsin wants it to – in fact, she’s not even sure what it is she wants.

Why we’re excited: Claire Lowdon is a thrilling, highly accomplished new voice in fiction, and with this book, she has written a Vanity Fair for her times. With sharp, satirical humour, unparalleled social observation and great empathy, Left of the Bang is an unflinching insider’s view of the foibles, hopes and difficulties of a generation of young Londoners today – who are often having much less fun that it seems.

What she’s reading: ‘I’ve just finished Love in the Time of Cholera, my first Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I had a terrific time with it; it’s so perfectly formed and so much funnier than I’d been expecting. Next in line is Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man. I always seem to be stumbling across brilliant quotations from Levi in other people’s essays – so, high time to read the man himself.’

What she’s listening to: ‘The last concert I went to was Haydn’s The Seven Last Words for string quartet, which was weird and wonderful – it’s programme music with such a mismatch between the story and the style that some very surprising things happen. As far as contemporary classical goes, Alastair Putt is exciting – his music is always clever and intricately beautiful. Otherwise: Prince, David Bowie, Air, Jamiroquai, Muse, Goldfrapp, Django Reinhardt, Massive Attack, Elvis Costello, Groove Armada, Beach House, Bon Iver, Bob Dylan, Frazey Ford, Lykke Li, Nouvelle Vague. Oh, and the Saturday Review podcast – Tom Sutcliffe’s great.’

What she’s watching: ‘I lived with my grandmother for three years and during that time I was up on everything, from Lewis to the crack cocaine that is Masterchef.  Now it seems to take me ages to finish stuff; I wish I watched more. I’m currently limping through the second series of Breaking Bad with my boyfriend. Anything that makes me laugh is good – Have I Got News for You, the first two series of Girls, Episodes… Tamsin Greig and Steven Mangan are a killer combination. Film-wise I’ve recently really enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nebraska and Frances Ha.’

Her favourite word: ‘Anything from James Redding Ware’s Passing English of the Victorian Era, A Dictionary Of Heterodox English, Slang and Phase (1909). Essentially, it’s a dictionary of dead slang, and a neat reminder of how short-lived our liveliest words are. Cf  Zadie Smith, in the excellent NW: ‘It was the year everyone was saying that such and such a person was “their rock”’. No-one can remember the year that everyone was saying ‘afternoonified’ instead of ‘smart’, because that was in 1897. But I love that James Redding Ware went to the trouble of recording it.’

Her favourite song: ‘‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter’, by Fats Waller.’

Living person she most admires: ‘The person in question would never forgive me for saying it out loud – so, in second place, Nicholson Baker, god of small things and champion of ancient newspapers. I think his mind must be a lovely place to be.’

The trait she most deplores in herself: ‘Acquiescence’

The trait she most deplores in others: ‘Tribalism’

The book she wishes she’d written: ‘The Inheritors by William Golding. It’s an extraordinary sustained feat of imaginative empathy: 233pp from the point of view of Neanderthal man, with an unforgettable shift at the end. Golding wrote it in just 30 days. It’s one of my favourite books, really a work of genius – and totally different from anything I’ll ever be able to write myself.’

The book she thinks that everyone should read: ‘Now We Are Six by A A Milne.’

The book she’d like republished: ‘Out of Mind by J Bernlef, translated from the Dutch (Hersenschimmen) by Adrienne Dixon and published by Faber in 1989. At just 144pp it’s a masterpiece of restraint that takes you into the mind of Maarten, a man with rapidly worsening dementia.’

Her writing ritual: ‘Mornings are best. When I’m working, I repaint my nails regularly – the mindlessness of the task almost always helps me to think myself out of whatever problem I’ve run into. And it stops me from chewing my fingers to shreds. If I get really stuck, I go for a run, or read someone good.’

The best advice she’s ever received: ‘Writing-wise? That anything can be fixed. (It’s almost true.)’

095483-FC50‘Left of the Bang’ is published by 4th Estate on the 5th of June

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