I was born at home in Islington North London
in 1969 to my parents Suzy Boyt and Lucian Freud and at my father's
suggestion I was called Susie after my mother. As the youngest of
my mother's five children (Ali, Rose, Isobel Kai and me), she and
I were inseparable until I was well into my teens. My earliest memories
(apart from being sick after our regular Sunday trifle) are of physical
closeness to my mother, of lying next to her in bed with my small
knees fitting into the gap made by her larger knees. Although trained
as a painter, my mother supported us by selling old fashioned clothes
in a shop called Susie's and later in an antiques market. I used
to have a miniature stall at her feet and sell odd bits of trimmings
and lace and , buckles and pearl buttons. From the age of about
ten it was arranged by my father that we all received some income
from his grandfather Sigmund Freud's royalties.
I was an extremely sensitive child and the spry
knockabout of playground life was sometimes too much for me. I
was also a terrible worrier. From an early age I threw myself
into school work. I wrote a small collection of poems when I was
about nine and was given a special book by the school in which
to collect them. They were almost all on the subject of disasters
being narrowly averted, and were called things like Blindness,
(in which a woman goes blind and then miraculously gets her sight
back); Help, (in which a girl realises she is stuck in a house
fire and is then rescued by a handsome fireman); and A Dying Dove
( in which a mother dove comforts her dying baby.)
I went on to a school called Channing which was
ladylike in the extreme with deportment badges and tidiness cups
and millions of rules which I loved. It was a very clever choice
for me as its old fashioned atmosphere suited my desire for things
to be done properly. By this stage home life was a little chaotic
so the order and routine of school seemed to me vastly reassuring
and almost glamorous.
I worked hard at school and was awarded a scholarship
but by the time I was sixteen I was a bit disillusioned with how
apolitical everyone was (in one history lesson we were asked what
a council flat was and no-one knew apart from me!) and I moved
to Camden School for Girls. There two wonderful English teachers
called Mrs Strickland and Mrs Richards encouraged and inspired
me and I still think about them often. Around this time I started
sitting for the first of my father's three portraits of me which
was when I really got to know him properly. They are called Susie
I, Susie II, and Susie III
Between school and university I left home and found
a highly stressful job in a PR agency which made Absolutely
look like Are You Being Served. Our clients were Red Stripe Lager,
the Brixton Academy and some of the first Acid House clubs such
as the Shoom. This job involved a lot of drinking and much scarpering
up dark alleys after my boss who liked to live dangerously,
put it mildly. This was probably the most anxious period of my
entire life. At the end of this year I went up to St Catherine's
College Oxford to read English, dashing back for sittings with
my father whenever possible. This was a very mixed experience
for me. I was taught by some extremely inspiring people such
as Barbara Everett and John Bayley but also encountered a lot
incompetence and corruption and power games from elsewhere. There
were dons prizing their way into the rooms of vulnerable boys
late at night and others who would spend your tutorial on the
phone and would then yawn and declare they would rather be in
the bath or at the opera. This did not impress me much. At the
end of my first year the boyfriend I had was killed suddenly
a climbing accident after finishing his finals at the age of
20. I went into shock for a long time and everything in my world
broken and ruined. I ended up taking a year off but Oxford was
a changed place for me after that. I did a lot of work on Henry
James at this time and became a bit obsessed with his world.
The question that intrigued me in terms of both love and work
can one be good and live fully in the world without taking on
all any of the taint that the word 'worldly' carries.
I left Oxford in 1992 and worked part time in a
book shop and part time for a literary agent and I also did some
typing for the fathers of friends and helped out at a day centre
for the homeless where I set up a writing group. Eighteen months
later I had completed and sold my first novel The
Normal Man which was published in 1995 by Weidenfeld and Nicholson
and also serialised on Woman's Hour. About this time I decided
to do a Masters in Anglo American Literary Relations at University
College London where I spent almost all my time working on Henry
James and the poet John Berryman. While studying for my MA I also
wrote most of my second novel The
Characters of Love into which I poured some of the feelings
of horror and alientation I had experienced while at Oxford.
IN 1996 The
Characters of Love was published and I fell in love with and
married my husband Tom Astor. While researching my third novel,
I also trained and began working part time as a bereavement counsellor,
fitting in the work round my witing. In November 2000 our daughter
Mary was born. The
Last Hope of Girls my third novel was published in the Spring
2001 and was shortlisted for the John LLewellyn Rhys Prize.
In the summer of 2003 I was asked to write a fortnightly fashion column called Consumer Culture for the Life and Arts section of the Weekend Financial Times which tries to explore the morality of glamour and the ethics of aesthetics. These columns can be viewed on the journalism section of this website. In 2006 the column became weekly and this year it broadened its range from consumer culture to life in general and particular.
My fourth novel Only Human is out now in paperback. It is a black comedy about a marriage guidance counsellor who goes off the rails when her teenage daughter suddenly leaves home. The Independent said:
"Susie Boyt's addictive fourth novel is a must-read for anyone who has ever found themselves in a counsellor's office face-to-face with the obligatory box of tissues....In this energising read Boyt brilliantly captures the linguistic gymnastics of the therapy room. In Marjorie she has created an Anne Tyler character in the English mould."
Only Human has been shortlisted for the Mind Book of the Year Award.
In 2006 my daughter Cecilia was born and around this time I started writing My Judy Garland Life my first attempt at non-fiction. It is a project I've been dreaming about for at least twenty five years and it's one part memoir, two parts hero-worship and three parts biography with a dash of sequin studded self help thrown in. It will be published by Virago in Octber 2008 in the UK and by Bloomsbury in the US in Spring 2009.
My new novel The Small Hours will be published by Virago in November 2012. I began this book before My Judy Garland Life and worked on it on and off for eight years. It is the darkest book I have written and sets out to investigate the very best and worst of how we treat each other. It sells the story of Harriet Mansfield, a brilliant but damaged woman who opens a girls' school to try to give herself the childhood she never had. It is a concentrated, fraught narrative equally filled with delights and despair.
In Spring 2013 My Judy Garland Life will be staged at the Nottingham Playhouse. My life will be a musical. You could not make it up.
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