The Accidental Woman
The Accidental Woman
I started writing this novel in September 1984 and finished it in the early summer of 1985. At the time I was a postgraduate student at Warwick University, writing a thesis on the use of intrusive narration in Fielding’s novels. No doubt this partly explains why the novel has such an intrusive narrator, but there were two more important influences on the book: B S Johnson’s Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry (which I had only just discovered), and the early novels of Samuel Beckett. Calling my heroine ‘Maria’ was meant to be a delibrate hommage to Beckett’s ‘M’ characters – Murphy, Molloy, Malone. In fact the novel was originally entitled Maria, but my then editor at Duckworth, Colin Haycraft, advised against this title, saying that it was uncommercial. When I came up with The Accidental Woman instead, he liked it because he thought I was deliberately pastiching Iris Murdoch’s An Accidental Man – a novel which I’d never read. (And still haven’t.)
It was Colin Haycraft’s wife, Anna, who was responsible for getting me published in the first place. Her own novels, published under the pseudonym Alice Thomas Ellis, were extremely popular at the time, although many of them have sadly gone out of print since her death in 2005. She was also the fiction editor for Duckworth and, sensing some affinities between her books and mine, I sent the manuscript to her on spec (I didn’t have an agent back then) after it had been rejected by about fifteen other publishers. To my amazement she read it, liked it and told her husband to publish it. Which he did. That first Duckworth edition was not exactly a runaway success, selling a grand total of 273 copies in hardback. But, even though I was so young when I wrote The Accidental Woman – so young that it now feels like the work of a different person altogether – it pleases me that the book is still attracting readers more than thirty years later.
There is now also an audiobook version, beautifully read by Sophie Ward.