A Q&A with Laura Purcell

What is the strangest thing you've done while researching a book? "I did a lot of fun things while researching 'The Corset', including teaching myself phrenology"

12 May 2019 - 00:00 By Sunday Times Books

(Published in the Sunday Times: 12/05/2019)

If our world leaders were required to read one book, what would it be?

I am going to have to say Les Miserables. I read it when I was 16 and it opened my eyes to the injustice of poverty.

What book changed your life?

I believe all the books we read shape us in some way - even if we are not aware of it at the time. I'd have to say Pride and Prejudice changed my life because it was the firs book I read by Jane Austen. My fascination with all her novels and the era in which she lived have played a big part in my life. 

What music helps you write?

Something classical or a movie score, like The Last of the Mohicans or Gladiator. 

What is the strangest thing you've done while researching a book? 

I did a lot of fun things while researching The Corset, including teaching myself phrenology [the study of the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits] with a porcelain bust and learning how to sew a corded corset. I also insisted on writing most of the book while wearing a corset for "authenticity".

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

I am behind on classic American fiction. I've still got Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird sitting on my shelf. I look forward to them.

What's the best book you've ever received as a gift?

A signed copy of Emma Thompson's A Further Tale of Peter Rabbit. I'm a big fan. 

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

I probably shouldn't have, but I laughed a lot recently while reading accounts of early Victorian-era surgeons. Particularly one who amputated a leg so fast that he accidentally took the patient's left testicle with it. It's so horrific that it almost becomes comic.

What are you most proud of writing?

I am never satisfied with my work. However, I was pleased to have my short story "Cameo" accepted into a horror anthology called Phantoms.

What keeps you awake at night? 

I sleep well. Laziness is one of my talents.

What books are on your bedside table?

The Scapegoat by Daphne de Maurier and The Mesmerist by Wendy Moore. 

How do you select your characters' names?

It's a fun process. I usually take names I like personally, but I have to be careful to make them appropriate to the time period and the class that the character occupies. I come up with a few before settling on one that "feels" right. It's hard to describe, but you want the name to suit the character just as much as if they were a real person.

If you could be best friends with a character, who would you choose?

I'd love to be friends with Newt Scamander and help look after all the magical beasts. Or Jasper the cat from my book The Silent Companions.

  • The Corset is published by Bloomsbury, R295