Good question. Why are you writing books?
I'm writing books to try and make a connection with a reader. It doesn't matter whether it's a reader who's on the Booker panel or a reader who's a waitress... Whenever I'm up for a prize I think: "Who the fuck are you to judge me?" And then I think: "Give me that fucking prize." Ha! You don't know these people exist until they write to you to say: "You're up for a prize. Do you want to come and have a bad hotel dinner, while feeling really nervous and wearing uncomfortable clothes, and then get up and make a cunt of yourself in front of a big audience?" What the fuck?
I mean, prizes are good marketing tools. They're shorthand for telling readers: "This is a good book." But a better way for people to come to your books is for their pals to say: "You'll like that book. It really meant something to me."
When did a book first really mean something to you?
When I was nineteen, reading Thérèse Raquin in a bedsit, being totally transported by the writing and the way two words can click together, and sitting back, thinking: "What an amazing thing to do with your life – to make that sort of connection with another person, to feel exactly what Zola was talking about, or looking at, or imagining... What an incredible connection!" And what I really love about Zola is that he was a political writer.
Do you see yourself as a political writer?
Yeah! Orwell was who I stole from the library... So it's that connection: reading A Tale of Two Cities and sweating with my heart racing at the end because it was so exciting. But I think you really have to keep your eyes on the prize, because otherwise you become bitter and disillusioned despite having everything. You're being published, you're making a living, you're spending your days in pyjamas wrestling with words, and people are writing to you saying: "I read your book and it mattered to me." How lucky is that?
(Len Wanner interviewing Denise Mina.)