Zoe’s fiction is usually character-driven, so she began with a fascinating exercise for the audience. We were to make two lists: one for the things which we would like known about ourselves, and the other for the things which we definitely would not! This exercise is often used by Zoe when exploring her own characters – people have a significant disconnect between what they would like to be and what they fear they really are; plot unfolds from what each character is hiding.
Zoe studied archaeology and philosophy at university, before finding her way to that Glasgow University MLitt programme which continues to crop up among SWC speakers! Her first novel, Negative Space, evolved from a series of short stories about a character grieving (inspired by Zoe’s then recent loss of her beloved grandmother). A two book deal with Picador encouraged Zoe to write her second book, Spin Cycle (based around the lives of three women who meet at a Glasgow laundrette).
Unusually, the idea for Zoe’s third novel – Ever Fallen In Love – came to her in a dream (wherein the opening dialogue arrived complete and unbidden). It took her seven years, however, to master the book – during which its ingenious, second narrative thread (set decades later, in the third as opposed to first person) would emerge. Right up until just before she wrote it, Zoe herself thought that the book would have a different ending; the ending it does have is a brilliantly understated reflection on the melancholy of lost youth.
Zoe shared many penetrating reflections on the writer’s art, such as David Lodge’s insight that choice of POV is the most important choice that any writer makes. Also, Zoe pressed the essentiality of getting feedback from readers of different ages and sexes – the secret of writing being like the secret of close-up photography: “intensity of seeing”. Oh yes, and never let a character say what they came to say!