‘I Had to Dig Below the Anecdotes’
Esther Freud talks to ISF
About Esther Freud
Novelist Esther Freud became well known with her first book, Hideous Kinky (1992), an account of her travels around Morocco in the 1960s with her mother, in search of Sufi masters. The story was later turned into a film starring Kate Winslet. Freud is the author of a further seven novels, most recently Mr Mac and Me (2014). She is the daughter of painter Lucian Freud and great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud.
1. Your first book, Hideous Kinky, is a novelised account of a complex time in your childhood growing up in Morocco. Did fictionalising events help to clarify them for you in any way, perhaps to uncover ‘truths’ which had previously been unclear?
Writing Hideous Kinky was an intense experience. I had to dig below the anecdotes and discover for myself what was really going on. I tried to breathe in the complex emotions I felt as an adult while keeping the non-judgemental viewpoint of a child. In order to write the book, I interviewed my mother and discovered things I didn’t know – some of which clarified situations, others confused me more.
2. Having provided material for your book, the events of your childhood were then turned into a film. How was that process for you?
The film turned the mother into the narrator – the book is narrated by the five-year-old daughter – so the fresh angle made it interesting. It was a great adventure, and gave me a chance to go back to Marrakech in some style, and see another side of the city.
3. What does Morocco and that time mean to you now?
It feels like a dream. The country has changed so much in the last twenty years. I’m glad I captured it when I did – ancient and exotic.
4. Is it a blessing or a curse for a writer to be successful with their first book?
It can be a curse, but I have found it a blessing. It gave me permission to take myself seriously, especially when a few years later I had children, and less time. It gave me the confidence to own the time I needed to keep writing.
5. You are part of a famous family of ‘immigrants’ who have made a large cultural impact on this country. Would that story be different were it starting today?
I fear that it might be. It’s heartbreaking the way some people view ‘immigrants’, when it is the mix of people in this country that makes it so rich and diverse.