At the age of thirteen, Emma Forrest started writing for her
school newspaper in London. A few years later, she sent off a few writing
samples to the Evening Standard, who promptly gave her an assignment
to write about a young person's view of Madonna. Soon after that, she landed a
column in London's Sunday Times, a gig that lasted about two years. She's
been writing full-time ever since.
Her first novel, Namedropper, is as saturated in pop culture as her
journalism. It's the story of Viva Cohen, a British teenager with a Liz
Taylor fixation whose best friends include a sexy classmate and a rock star who
acts like her big brother. I spoke with the now 22-year-old Forrest, who
currently lives in New York City, by telephone in early August.
RH: How did you wind up writing a novel?
EF: Just about anyone who has a column gets letters from
publishers asking if they've thought about writing a book. I was
getting a lot of letters like that. They put the idea in my head, so I
tried it, and I enjoyed it, and I was good at it. But I want to keep
doing journalism even if I become known as a fiction writer. A lot of
my favorite writers are journalists, like George Plimpton. I'm not
using it as a stepping stone to higher ground. I think journalism is as
important as fiction.
RH: How long did it take you to write
EF: It didn't take me that long once I actually started to write.
I'm pretty good at procrastinating, and I talked about it for a while,
but when I actually sat down, it probably took me about six months.
RH: Did you update this American edition?
EF: I did, very much so. Not for the American market, but for
myself. I was so unhappy with the way my English publishers did it
that I'm not publishing with them anymore. Nobody saw it through
before it went to press. There were a hell of a lot of spelling
mistakes, repetitions...I didn't have an editor; even though there was
somebody who bought it, nobody looked at it. I was just really happy
for the opportunity [with the American edition] to tighten it up,
and...because I wrote it when I was a teenager, some of the writing
was just too flowery. The more journalism I've done, the more spare
my style's become. So I cut a lot of words. What's terrible is that
people keep asking me things and I can't remember what I've
written. I haven't read it since I handed it in. Everybody hates the
sound of their voice on an answerphone, and I have an extension of
that where I can't bear to read my own writing.
RH: Did you go to Chateau Marmont, where a major
section of the novel takes place, for research?
EF: No, I've been going there since I was about ten. I've
always just thought it was a magical place, and a lot of artists, or
actors, or photographers, who read the book tell me they feel exactly
the same way. Nobody likes LA, even people who live there. So when
I'm in LA, I go to the Marmont and never leave my room.
RH: Speaking of LA, is there any interest in doing a
movie of Namedropper?
EF: Yes, but it's actually owned by an English film company,
Channel 4. They bought it about a year ago, and they just renewed
the option. They say they have a script and they're happy with it,
but I'll believe it when I see it. Books get bought all the time and
never get made into films.
I'm also writing a screenplay, not for anyone but myself. We'll see
how it goes, and maybe I'll hand it in to someone when I'm finished.
It's a quite difficult medium, and really it's only with the new book
that I've gotten a real handle on structure and plot.
Namedropper is really character-driven, much more about the
dialogue than about any amazing plot twists. So the screenplay is just
a challenge to myself. And of course I'm doing journalism to pay the
RH: What have you worked on lately?
EF: I just did a cover story for British Esquire, an
interview with Brad Pitt. I think that's one of the best things I've
ever done. I worked really hard on it, and I had 5,000 words to play
with, which is about two chapters of a novel. I just found him very
interesting and impressive--and it's a real challenge when you like
someone to make him interesting to the reader. That's why we like
reading bitchy articles; that's why people are writing them. They're
easy to write and easy to read. It's much harder when you're
impressed by someone to make it interesting to the reader.
RH: When you were writing for your school newspaper,
did you ever dream you'd be interviewing movie stars for
magazine cover stories?
EF: I probably would've dreamed that. My parents never
made me feel like it would be unusual to succeed, or that there was a
chance I might not. And I'm not very ambitious, in a weird way; I
just like doing this. So I've never really thought of it in terms of,
"God, I hope I get to do a cover story for a magazine."
RH: Who are some of your favorite fiction writers?
EF: Lorrie Moore. Phillip Roth. Truman Capote. And, actually,
since the publication of my book, I've become blown away by
Melissa Bank, whose book [The Girl's Guide to Hunting and
Fishing] I didn't read for ages, because I guess it was marketed as
a Bridget Jones type of thing, but once I actually read it, I found her
more on the level of Lorrie Moore. I think she's incredible.
RH: How'd you get hooked on old movies?
EF: I remember...I don't know if it was as big here as it was in
England, but remember the TV show Twin Peaks? It was huge
in England when I was starting to write, when I was thirteen. I was
so besotted with it, and the way...well, the way all David Lynch's
stuff is set in the present but with such a 50s ideology and look to it.
And my mom said, "Well, if you like that so much, you should see
these films." That was my way in, and I never really got out.
RH: What brought you to the States?
EF: My mom is American, so I've got a passport and I've spent
a lot of time here. I kinda feel that if you make it in London, you
should try to make it in New York. London is almost like the doctor's
waiting room for New York, I think. It's where you sit until you
actually get to business. I don't really have that many friends in
London; I have a lot more friends here. So the only thing I really
miss is my family.
RH: Is your second novel set in America?
EF: Yeah. I can't wait for it to come out. You know how you'll
hear a band saying, "Oh, we don't even want to talk about this album
because the next one is so much better"? I feel the same way. It's
been a while since I wrote Namedropper now, and I'm much
more proud of what I've just handed in. But that's always the way.