Great LezBritain: Interview with Joanna Briscoe


AE: Sylvie’s approach to seducing Richard and the way she seduces Leila is very different plus the tone you use to describe them together really differs. Do you attribute this more to Richard and Leila’s sexuality or to Sylvie’s differing motivations towards them?
JB: I think it’s connected with both their sexuality and with Sylvie’s feelings.Richard is more clumsy emotionally and unable to understand aspects of Sylvie that strike Lelia immediately — that her own connection with her is unlikely to be unique.

Sylvie plays Richard very skillfully, while having some genuine feelings for him, largely mixed up with her emotions towards Lelia. Her big passion is Lelia, and she feels desperation, jealousy, possessiveness and true love towards her. What she really wants is Lelia back in her life.

AE: In both Mothers and Other Lovers and Sleep With Me you write about the psychology of your characters more than you write about their sexuality. Is it important to you that the characters in your novels are not simply pigeonholed by their sexuality?
JB: I don’t even think about characters being pigeonholed by sexuality! It simply doesn’t occur to me. I just write about them as rounded characters, and their psychological motives and the influences of their childhoods is important to me. Also, their sexuality is often fairly fluid, or changes as the novel progresses.

AE: All of your novels have female characters that are fundamentally damaged. Why is this type of character of interest to you?
JB: I can’t imagine a straightforwardly happy and balanced character being particularly interesting to read about! In fact, wouldn’t she be actively dull?

Some neurosis at the very least is necessary for any kind of convincing drama or complex interaction. Most people I like and identify with are damaged or neurotic at some level! The male characters in my novels also tend to be damaged in some way, but I usually focus more on the female characters. Sleep With Me was an exception to this in that Richard had the largest narrative voice, though I still think of Sylvie as the center of the novel.

AE: Sleep With Me was adapted by the godfather of screen adaptations, Andrew Davies. How did you react when he spoke to you about adapting your novel?
JB: Oh, I was fantastically excited about the whole thing. I used to watch his Pride and Prejudice and swoon, along with the entire UK. If I’d known then that one day he’d adapt one of my novels — I heard rumors that he was interested for a while, and it took some time for the whole deal to be signed and confirmed. It was really tremendously exciting and flattering.

AE: How much involvement did you have with the Sleep With Me screenplay? Were you happy with the casting choices?
JB: I had far more involvement than I’d expected, given that I’d sold the option, and it was their project. But the company, Clerkenwell Films, really kept me involved, and Ellie Wood, the script editor, passed the drafts by me and took my notes seriously.

The casting was interesting, because two of the characters were very different from how I’d imagined, and one spookily similar. My Richard was white, and a black actor plays him (Adrian Lester), while my Leila was English-Indian, and a white actor plays her (Jodhi May). When Sylvie (Anamaria Marinca) walked into the room for the initial read-through, I got goose bumps. I really did feel a shiver down my spine! There was my imagined character walking into the room.

AE: Diana Letherby from Tipping The Velvet will always have a special place in my lesby heart. Is there a character that has a special place in your lesby heart?
JB: Fraulein von Bernberg. Look her up if you don’t know her! [For those of you who don’t, your homework is to watch Maedchen In Uniform, the inspiration for the more recent Loving Annabelle.]

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