Tracy Chevalier Q&A: “I genuinely have no idea who to vote for”

The novelist talks The Simpsons, Barack Obama, and a love of trees.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Tracy Chevalier was born in Washington, DC in 1962 and now lives in London. The author of ten novels, she is best known for “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, which was adapted as a film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth in 2003.

What’s your earliest memory?

Walking with my mother to the school gate to pick up my brother and sister. I was riding a little bike with training wheels, and was proud to have got that far. I would have been about four.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood heroine was Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie series. As an adult I see that some of her views were suspect, but as a girl I just wanted to be Laura. Now I admire David Attenborough, who is using his later years to ramp up the pressure on us all to face up to climate change.

What book last changed your thinking?

The Overstory by Richard Powers, a huge novel about trees. I love trees, I’ve even written about trees myself, but Powers takes it to another level.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Barack Obama. He’s a smart guy, compassionate and a great speaker, who really cares about making the world a better place. I still can’t believe the US elected him, and then elected Trump. WTF.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Johannes Vermeer, of course. Even more than 20 years after the publication of Girl with a Pearl Earring, I still follow the scholarship about him.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d like to live 300 hundred years from now, however hideous life may end up being. I really want to know where we’re headed.

What TV show could you not live without?

The Simpsons. Many a night at 6pm I’ve been relieved to sit down and laugh.

Who would paint your portrait?

Rembrandt. You would think I’d say Vermeer, but Rembrandt was a genius at portraying people as they are. Vermeer idealised them a bit.

What’s your theme tune?

Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City”.

What’s currently bugging you?

The thought of a general election. I genuinely have no idea who to vote for. The parties are all hideous right now.

What single thing would make your life better?

A way to remember all of my passwords.

When were you happiest?

In Venice, in 1994 (honeymoon), 2011 (our family went to the Biennale for first time), and every two years since. Very happiest: eating raspberry and dark chocolate ice cream in Venice.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I have long thought there should be less packaging, so in an alternative life I would have been a designer of environmentally friendly packaging. To my amazement and delight, this is a thing now.

Are we all doomed?

I truly wish I could say otherwise, but I think we are. We are not changing fast enough, and are seduced by stuff and travel. I fear that capitalism is all about growth based on consumption and unlimited natural resources. Until we change that way of thinking, we will continue to wreck the planet. 

“A Single Thread” by Tracy Chevalier is published by the Borough Press

This article appears in the 13 November 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Britain was sold