'I’m very conscious of the limitations of language as a medium'

Rachel Cusk speaks to us about how, with the Booker prize-longlisted Second Place, she was ‘thinking quite specifically about a lack of literary influences in terms of the female voice’.

How does it feel to have Second Place longlisted for the Booker?

It’s a strong list and I’m delighted to be on it.

Which authors have influenced or inspired your own writing?

I’ve had many influences over the years, but in the case of this novel I was thinking quite specifically about a lack of literary influences in terms of the female voice.

What is your favourite Booker-winning or Booker-shortlisted novel?

I believe Alice Munro was once shortlisted for The Beggar Maid. She is a writer I admire very much.

What are you working on next?

I’ve been writing short pieces about art and artists. I like the essay form and the intricate opportunities for development it offers.

You’ve written many novels but Second Place is your first since the Outline trilogy ended. How did that project inform what you wrote next?

I think the trilogy left me with some very flexible thinking about the novel as a form, and so perhaps I felt capable in Second Place of a more conscious and elevated approach to drama and play.

The novel owes a debt, in your words, to Mabel Dodge Luhan’s memoir about D.H. Lawrence. What did you want to explore in making the character of L. a painter instead of a writer? 

The world of the visual artist – especially in ageing – is one I often see in contrast to that of the writer. I’m very conscious of the limitations of language as a medium. Also I felt better able to express my ideas about femininity and perception as ideas about painting.

The narrator speaks throughout to an invisible listener called Jeffers. What did this imaginary presence offer her diction? 

One of the things I have come to find difficult about fiction is the artificiality of the novelistic ‘occasion’. So I liked the idea of the book being somehow spoken, as to a friend.

Rachel Cusk