The Books Interview: Lynne Reid Banks

Your novel The L-Shaped Room was published 50 years ago. How does it feel to revisit it?
When I reread it recently, I found it pleasing and shocking, not quite in equal measure. I thought, on the whole, that I was quite proud of it, but then I came across bits that I wouldn't write today and don't know how I ever came to write in the first place - which was quite startling. It's like something written by somebody else.

The novel was a bestseller. Did its success surprise you?
It absolutely astonished me. I was working for ITN at the time, so I used to write late at night after the last bulletin, with my typewriter on my knees. By the end I was so fed up with it - and I'd reworked it and gone through all sorts of stuff in my private life - that I thought it was awful. I really had no hope for it at all and sent it to my editor in a desperately untidy and messy state and got hell for doing so. It was terribly unprofessional of me and I can't believe I did that, but I had no expectations for it whatsoever.

Which writers were you reading at the time? Who were your influences?
I think Ernest Hemingway was probably one of my major influences: his strong plots, strong characters, short dialogues. I found these very impressive. I read voraciously but probably all the wrong things.

Did you feel any affinity with the “Angry Young Men" who emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s?
I knew John Osbourne and all that crowd quite well. And people like Colin Wilson - I was very envious of all these people having their books published. But I'm not sure their actual writing and their lifestyle influenced me, except that I looked at it and found it quite different from my own.

How much progress have we made since 1960? Unmarried women like the novel's heroine, Jane Graham, are not ostracised for becoming pregnant, for instance.
I think we've gone backwards, morally. I wouldn't want any girl who became pregnant to be ostracised and thrown out of her home. I think family support is very important, and girls in that situation claim it as their right, as they claim state support and so on.But whether it's a good idea to bring the child into the world without a partner is another matter. At the risk of appearing to be a fuddy-duddy, I still don't think it's a very good idea.

You've also written many children's books. Do you regard writing for children and for adults as related in any way?
Moving between the two is like changing gear. I find writing for children much easier. I don't mean it's less demanding - you've got to have a talent for it and you've got to work very hard - but you don't have to pull your guts out and lay them on the line in quite the same way as when you're writing for adults.I will certainly never attempt to write another adult novel, and I am writing another children's book, so perhaps, at the age of 81, I'm going into my second childhood.

A couple of years after The L-Shaped Room came out, you left the UK for Israel. Were you fleeing your own success?
Nonsense! I loved my success, and it was very difficult to leave it. My second book had just come out and that was successful, too. The film had come out and I was having a lovely time.

You returned to the UK in 1971. Did Israel change after the Six Day War of 1967?
It changed a very great deal. It's no good pretending otherwise. Innocence is ignorance. We lived a sort of innocent life in Israel in the 1960s, but we shouldn't have done; we shouldn't have been so happy. I was happier then than I ever was before and happier than I have ever been since. I can't unwish those years, but I feel quite guilty about them now.

Do you still go back?
I went back last September, having sworn I wouldn't go back as long as the occupation lasted. I went because the kibbutz where I lived was having its 60th-anniversary celebrations. I used to go to Jerusalem to visit a very old friend, but they're now dead, so I will not be going back to Israel again.

“The L-Shaped Room" is published by Vintage (£7.99)

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 13 September 2010 issue of the New Statesman, France turns right