Being a writer, I’ve been closely following the stellar rise of Jessie Burton, author of the 2014 sensation ‘The Miniaturist’. I follow Jessie, her agent Juliet Mushens and editor Francesca Main on twitter, so it’s been exciting to watch the story from the description of her submission letter to Mushens, the auction that followed, and publication that led to the book being on bestseller lists across the world.
And whilst it’s easy to get snarky about another writer’s success (read David Mitchell’s ‘The Bone Clocks’ for an excellent example of writerly envy), it’s impossible not to enjoy Burton’s. Not only is it a book worthy of the plaudits, but the author comes across as a genuinely lovely person who appreciates the wonderful and ‘discombobulating’ experience she has been having.
In this session with Georgia Godwin, she discussed both the busy promotional schedule of the last year, which has led to headline articles, personal interest in some countries, intellectual in others, but also some of the background to the book. She talked about how seeing the real miniature doll’s house in Amsterdam inspired her to explore a seventeenth century society that was both similar and different from ours. How wealthy women could walk the streets openly with their husbands, and could be members of guilds, and yet also had to fight the reactionary forces that pushed them back to the hearth.
She also talked about the complexity of her characters, how Nella is struggling to make sense of her world, and combative with her new family and how Marian’s kindness is buried in years of repression. And how the characters keep secrets from each other, sometimes because of the moralistic society they live in and sometimes for protection. How none of the characters can be fully known and some things are left half open.
I was also fascinated with her relaying how food becomes a status symbol in the book. Having sugar and spice meant people being able to show they were wealthy enough to flavour their food. Burton also noted that they would paint meals much in the same way people instagram them now.
This was a great interview, Burton is warm, self deprecating and an intelligent and thoughtful writer. I could have listened to her for hours. As a reader, I can confirm she writes beautifully. The Miniaturist isn’t my usual reading fare, but she drew me into the mysteries and secrets of her characters and describes the world so well, I really enjoyed it. As an aspiring writer her extraordinary rise to the top of the charts fills me with hope, not because I expect the same, but because it shows it is possible to be taken from the slushpile. And I love the fact she is so dumbstruck but the whole thing and was so excited by the size of her audience she took a selfie with us.
Her next book ‘Belonging’ will cover the Spanish Civil War and another set of secrets. It should be out next year – I’m already looking forward to it.