Emma Healey: ‘Mills & Boon saved my life – you need happy endings when you’re down’

Her award-winning debut tackled Alzheimer’s and now she is drawing from the dark depression of her teenage years. Emma Healey opens up about real life events that inspired her latest novel

A gentle story about an 82-year-old woman with dementia might seem an unlikely hit, but Emma Healey’s first novel was such a success it was dubbed “Gone Gran”. A little bit funny, a little bit sad, Elizabeth Is Missing won the 2014 Costa first novel award and is being adapted for TV. And the author was not yet 30.

Her second novel, Whistle in the Dark, seems rather more “Gone Girl”; and, with its black cover and tagline promising mystery, the book is certainly being sold as a psychodrama. In fact, it is a neat subversion of the genre, opening with 15-year-old Lana fetching up at hospital after being lost for four days. Events unfold from the perspective ...

Poet Hera Lindsay Bird: ‘I forget about the sex in my book until I read it aloud’

New Zealand’s outspoken ‘Instapoet’ star discusses sentimentality, sitcoms – and why humour is essential to her work

Acclaimed by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, as “the most arresting and original new young poet”, 30-year-old Hera Lindsay Bird is one of the stars of the new generation of “Instapoets” – so called because of their use of social media – with hits including Keats Is Dead So Fuck Me from Behind and Monica, which riffs on the character from the sitcom Friends. She works in a bookshop in New Zealand. Hera Lindsay Bird is her first collection. She tours the UK this month.

Why did you call your debut collection Hera Lindsay Bird?
That’s my name! I was thinking about the great female pop stars of the 90s, when it was compulsory to name your first solo album after yourself, and if you were Janet Jackson, the second one too. ...

Jesmyn Ward: ‘Black girls are silenced, misunderstood and underestimated’

The author of Sing, Unburied, Sing, had a tough childhood in Mississippi, survived Hurricane Katrina, and became the first woman to win two US national book awards for fiction

If Jesmyn Ward’s fiction tends towards the epic, that is maybe because her life has been marked by monumental events. “I fought from the very beginning”, she says. Born prematurely at just 26 weeks, she was badly attacked by her father’s pit bull as a small child, her younger brother was killed at 19, and, along with several generations of her family, she sheltered from Hurricane Katrina in a truck. Yet today she is the first woman to win the US national book award for fiction twice, hailed by a leading reviewer as “one of the most powerfully poetic writers in the country”. And on the morning we meet, it has just been announced that she has been shortlisted ...

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: ‘This could be the beginning of a revolution’

She’s on school reading lists and counts Hillary, Oprah and Beyoncé as fans. The author talks about motherhood, #MeToo – and causing controversy

At a PEN lecture in Manhattan last weekend, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie took Hillary Clinton to task for beginning her Twitter bio with “Wife, mom, grandma”. Her husband’s account, it will surprise no one to know, does not begin with the word “husband”. “When you put it like that, I’m going to change it,” promised the 2016 presidential candidate.

Adichie is an international bestseller and about as starry as a writer can be (when we meet she chats casually about recently meeting Oprah Winfrey, who made a little bow to her). Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, published when she was only 26, was longlisted for the 2004 Man Booker; she won the 2006 Orange prize for Half of a Yellow Sun; was awarded a ...

Ayòbámi Adébáyò on how living with sickle cell disease inspired her bestselling debut

Stay With Me has put her on the pages of Vogue and now the Wellcome prize shortlist. She talks about dating and growing up in a turbulent Nigeria

It has been quite a year for Ayòbámi Adébáyò. She is in London for International Women’s Day, as she was last year, when it was announced that her first novel had been longlisted for the Baileys prize. Stay With Me went on to make the shortlist and is now up for the Wellcome prize, the winner of which will be announced later this month. The novel was glowingly reviewed, not least by the New York Times’s high priestess Michiko Kakutani (“stunning”, “powerfully magnetic and heartbreaking”); Sarah Jessica Parker chose it for the American Library’s book club; and the author, who has just turned 30, has been interviewed in both the Paris Review and Vogue. When we meet, she has come from the ...

Deborah Levy: ‘The new generation of young women can change the world’

The writer discusses the quest for a freer life and why she always returns to JG Ballard

Rejected by mainstream publishers for being “too literary”, Deborah Levy’s fifth novel, Swimming Home, was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker prize after being picked up by a small independent press. Hot Milk, her next novel, was also shortlisted for the Booker in 2016. Her early fiction has since been reissued by Penguin. Part memoir, part meditation on writing and gender, Things I Don’t Want to Know, the first volume of what she calls her “living autobiography”, recalled her childhood in South Africa (her father was imprisoned as a member of the ANC) and her teenage years “in exile” in England. The second instalment, The Cost of Living (Hamish Hamilton, £12.99), continues these reflections on art, identity and philosophy, alongside building a new life after the breakdown of her marriage.


Rose Tremain: ‘I don’t want to write for vengeance. It’s cheap and angry’

A cruel mother, an absent father, a beloved nanny ... the writer on the ‘frozen world’ of her childhood, and why she wishes she had won the Booker prize

“Do you love me? Do you love me?” Rose Tremain’s mother kept asking her daughter at the end of her life. “And I’d say: ‘Yes, of course I do.’ But I never have and I never will because you didn’t show me love when I needed it,” the novelist says now, as if her mother, Jane, were in the room with us.

After more than 40 years of not drawing on her own life in her fiction, Tremain has written a memoir. This slim, elegant – sometimes shocking – study of maternal failure is also a love letter to her nanny, “the kindest person I’ve ever known”, the author’s “saviour” and “angel”. Her childhood, she writes in Rosie: Scenes from ...

Diana Evans: ‘It wasn’t until my twin passed away that I had a really important story that I wanted to tell’

Diana Evans’s new novel is a soulful portrait of family life as Obama came to power. She talks motherhood, her chair-buying habit and the ‘particular solitude’ of being a lone twin

Barack Obama on the cover of Time magazine, Toni Morrison and Angela Davis striding out in 1970s New York, Fela Kuti and Cassandra Wilson – one wall in the novelist Diana Evans’s south London family home is devoted to beautiful portraits of extraordinary people, just one of many personal details that creeps into her third novel, Ordinary People. Beneath this wall of black and white photos sits a sunshine yellow armchair. Evans buys herself a chair after each book, “a reminder that aimless contemplation is as important as achieving”. A large swinging chair, still finding its place in the front room, is her reward for this latest novel.

Ordinary People opens in the autumn of 2008 with a party ...

Leïla Slimani on her shocking bestseller, Lullaby: ‘Who can really say they know their nanny?’

Her murderous nanny thriller gripped France, winning its top literary prize and the attention of President Macron. With Lullaby now out in English, the author shares her thoughts on motherhood, #MeToo and being a Muslim in France

“The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds,” so begins Lullaby. First we had the murderous perfect wife, Gone Girl, in 2012, then the murderous perfect husband, The Girl on the Train, in 2015, and now the murderous “perfect nanny” – the US title for the Goncourt-winning French bestseller, published in the States and the UK this month. Lullaby is ménage à trois as domestic noir; the relationship, as intimate and intense as any affair, between a couple and their nanny. It was “like love at first sight”, says Myriam, the mother, of their first meeting. Until, like a “wounded lover”, the nanny stabs the two children in the ...

Margaret Atwood: ‘I am not a prophet. Science fiction is really about now’

The TV adaptation of her dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale captured the political moment. Ahead of a new series, Atwood talks bestsellers, bonnets and the backlash against her views on #MeToo

“It was not my fault!” says Margaret Atwood of 2017. But it was certainly her year. Now, just a few weeks into January, she is already making headlines with typically trenchant comments on the #MeToo movement. And, of course, the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale returns this spring: she has read the first eight scripts and has “no fingernails left”. While the world – and Gilead – show no sign of getting any cheerier, Atwood is seemingly unstoppable. In March the New Yorker crowned her “the prophet of dystopia” and the TV adaptations of The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace has orbited her into an international stardom seldom experienced by novelists. Atwood was a consultant on both ...

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler: ‘The Gruffalo’s not a curse … it can be a burden’

The author and llustrator on their long partnership and what Brexit would have meant for The Gruffalo

If Paddington Bear was a polite parable of immigration in wellies and a floppy hat, so the Gruffalo has become an unlikely emblem of Brexit – “the Brusselo”. A recent cartoon for the Guardian by his creator Axel Scheffler recast the toothsome monster in star-spangled EU blue, terrifying British voters with anti-European fears. And in an impassioned blog entitled Without the EU, There Would Be No Gruffalo, the German-born illustrator, who has lived in the UK since the early 1980s, argues that had it not been for his long-term collaboration with the writer and former children’s laureate Julia Donaldson, “The Gruffalo and all the other books I’ve illustrated would not have contributed to the British economy, creating jobs and revenue. Just unravelling the story of one ‘British product’, The Gruffalo, shows ...