Written in Stockholm in 2003, the elusive Donna Tartt wrote an essay for The Guardian. This little piece gives us a rare glimpse into her life; she loves her dogs, was a cheerleader (alas, not the usual type), finds comfort in hotels, and her disposition towards clothing is one that matches mine (“I get very attached to coats”).
This Much I Know
If you’re travelling alone, as I often do, and you have a dog with you, France is a wonderful place to go.
I once turned up at a nice restaurant, and the maître d’ looked at me and said, ‘Une?’ and then looked down, saw my dog, shook his head and tenderly said, ‘Non, deux.’ And took us to a romantic table for two.
I get very attached to coats because a coat is a comfort, you can curl up with it. I bought a beautiful cashmere coat about 10 years ago and I love it. It’s really like my security blanket.
I try not to pay attention to publicity. When The Secret History had been published, I met Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at a party. I mentioned a gigantic Vanity Fair story about him which had appeared recently, and he said, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen it.’ I thought this was the most incredible thing
I’d ever heard, and he said, ‘I’ll tell you why, kid. The good things don’t help and the bad things still hurt.’
My job is really to write the book. I reserve for press the kind of horrible curiosity you have when you overhear your name and you know people are talking about you in the corner. Some people will go over and try to eavesdrop on that conversation. I’m not that kind of person. I would leave the room.
It’s wonderful to live in a hotel, and to be involved in the life of a hotel. I lived on and off in the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York for several years. Sometimes at home, even now, I wake up in the morning and don’t know where I am, and fumble around on the bedside table for a matchbook or something to tell me what hotel and what city I’m in.
Learning how to type does not make you a writer. It was one of the biggest disappointments of my life when I found I couldn’t compose at a typewriter. You see so many movies in which pages fly out of a writer’s machine and novels pile up next to them. I’m in my late 30s now and I’m still working in those messy little notebooks I had when I was six.
To be an artist of any sort, one has to be stubborn, to have a very strong inner compass. It’s the hardest thing and no one can teach you. You have to know yourself.
I love anybody who makes me laugh. Humour will carry you through a great deal of the world’s evil.
It’s part of the personality of a writer to absorb the emotions of people around them whether they want
to or not. Sometimes, it’s just too much, it’s really overpowering. If I’m sitting next to someone at a restaurant who’s angry and upset, I’ll start to feel bad myself.
Reading is what makes me happiest.
I am very particular about my surroundings. When I think of poor Oscar Wilde, dying in Paris and saying, ‘Either that wallpaper goes, or I do’, sometimes I feel the same way.
New York is the only city in the world in which you have Wanderlust and never leave home.
I was a cheerleader because I was good at gymnastics and they didn’t have gymnastics in my school. I was a little girl, too, so I was called a flyer, so it was kind of fun. But I didn’t at all like the social aspect of it.
I do miss my dogs when I’m travelling, but I stop and speak to dogs – dogs often stop and speak to you.
Authors dress to either one of two extremes. There is the dandy, or there is Virginia Woolf who was famous for going about in rags, practically. Very nice clothes are not incompatible with the writer’s profession, in a way that they are for a painter or a dancer.
I lose notebooks all the time, but I very much doubt that anyone who found one would realise it was one of mine. They look like the rubbishy little notebooks a child’s homework might be in. I rampage through the house like Medea, looking for them. Almost always, they’re under my chair or someplace, but I have lost one or two forever, and it’s disturbing.
I try to be disciplined, but by nature, I’m not very.
I have never seen Sex and the City.