was born and raised in Washington, D.C. She earned her BA at Oberlin College in Ohio and holds a graduate degree in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. Her novels include Burning Bright
and the international bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring
. She lives in London, England.
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Describe your latest project.
I'm working on a novel about Mary Anning, a working-class English woman who collected fossils on southern England beaches in the early 19th century. The specimens she found of ancient marine reptiles ? ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs ? she sold to male scientists, who studied them and began to realize the world was not necessarily 6,000 years old as they'd assumed. Mary was single, prickly, eccentric ? a perfect character for a novel.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
For several summers running, as a teenager, I numbered bird bones for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Oh, and sometimes sorted through pickled snakes.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
...there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.
What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
They're a pair of black Merrells, and when I wear them they feel like trainers without looking like trainers. Plus they make my big feet look smaller.
What is your astrological sign? If you don't like what you were born with, to what sign would you change and why?
I'm a Libran, and boy does it sum me up: constantly mediating between people, wanting everyone to be happy, and trying to get things balanced. Kind of exhausting sometimes, and it makes me wonder if my mother should have waited a few days so I could be a mean and moody Scorpion.
What is your idea of absolute happiness?
A never-ending Italian meal with family and friends, on a terrace in the sunshine.
Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
Homicide: Life on the Street. A precursor to The Wire (which I haven't yet seen), it feels so real you expect to open your door afterward and walk right into it. The actors completely inhabit their characters, the story lines subvert the normal storytelling arc, and it is gut-wrenching and exhilarating at the same time. I hope The Wire makes me feel the same.
Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
Cats rule; dogs drool. Birds and turtles: boring. I have a tortoiseshell [cat] who goes a little crazy at night and starts hunting me.
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Five Books I've Loved While in Bed with the Flu:
Anne of Green Gables by J. M. Montgomery
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett