Getting to Know Charlotte Grimshaw

Her knockout memoir, The Mirror Book is a brave and honest account of growing up in one of New Zealand's great literary families. Charlotte Grimshaw's new book has been reviewed everywhere from The Guardian to The Spinoff including unprecedented daily coverage in Newsroom.

Now hear from the author herself about how Charlotte's memoir challenging the 'repressive' Stead family narrative has received such positive feedback and helped readers across the country think about their own family dynamics. 

Now back in print after selling out of a first print run, you can grab a copy of The Mirror Book online or in store - make sure to read the book that's got everyone talking. 

 

What is your day job?

Writer of novels, short stories, essays and now a memoir. Also reviewer and columnist.

 

What is your connection to Vic Books?

It's a supplier of great books.

 

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on an idea to write a novel that follows on from my memoir, The Mirror Book. I always like the idea of complicating the picture further. I also have a notebook of ideas for short stories that could potentially make a collection.

 

Congratulations on your bestselling memoir! Its first printing sold out fast and we're super excited to have books back in stock. It's been a busy time around publication starting with an extract in The Guardian followed by a huge buzz here in New Zealand media and it's become the most asked for book of the year for us so far! How has the publication and publicity been for you?

I had expected that publishing a memoir would be the same as bringing out a new novel. I now realise this isn't the case. The reaction to the book has been huge, and many people have written to me or approached me to say the book has really made them think, especially about the dynamic in their own families. The response has been extremely positive, and one of the best things people have said is that they've found the book helpful. I love that. The book has also created controversy, and that's made it a difficult one to publish, but worth it, I think.

 

You chose to use Memoir as the vehicle for your story - was there a specific reason for choosing this genre?

I've always written fiction, and I grew up with a fiction writer in the family (my father C.K.Stead). I decided I wanted to try to write a true account of some aspects of my life, starting with a personal crisis and exploring early memories. My family were resistant to this, and as I've described in the book, I felt as if I 'ran into a wall of fiction' when I tried to get at the truth. The book is partly an exploration of the connection between fact and fiction in families.

The Mirror Book is brave and honest. Some might see your memoir as 'blowing open' your family dynamics - do you see it this way? 

Some in my family have seen it as blowing open the dynamics, were very displeased with me and initially did everything they could to try to stop me publishing the book. Others in my extended family have welcomed the openness and loved the book. I think of it as an appeal for empathy, for treating each other better, and I hope in the end people in the family will come around to understanding what I've tried to do.

 

You are so open in your book about how you looked at and into yourself - did the writing process help this journey?

Yes, in the writing process I was trying to understand myself, specifically what was wrong with me, why I had various difficulties, and how I could go about trying to change. Writing helped me to put some of these questions in order and to try to answer them.

 

What memoirs and biographies are your biggest inspirations?

I've set out in the book that I drew a lot of inspiration from the writing of Janet Malcolm. Her books are brilliant.

 

What future writing projects do you have planned? Will you be returning to fiction?

Yes, I'd like to return to fiction (it's less of an ordeal to discuss!) but I might draw in some aspects of the memoir.

 

Some quick fire book recommendations please!

All the writing of Janet Malcom. I've just read Inside Story, Martin Amis's recent book - very interesting. Steve Braunias's latest, Missing Persons, is excellent.

 

What are you reading at the moment?

Vanity Fair by Thackeray.

 

What do you like about it?

It's funny, cynical, satirical, savage.

 

Which literary character do you most identify with and why?

Snufkin. He goes his own way, likes being alone, travels a lot, isn't influenced by anyone, is benign.

 

Hardback or paperback? 

Both! 

 

Favourite coffee?

Most coffee - I'm an addict.