Thirteenth Tale (Setterfield)

Author Bio 
Birth—August 22, 1964
Where—Berkshire, England, UK
Education—B.A., Ph.D., University of Bristol
Currently—lives in Yorkshire, England

Diane Setterfield is in her early forties. Having spent time in France, she now lives in Harrogate. Her background is an academic one. Her previous publications have been in the field of 19th and 20th century French literature, especially the works of André Gide.

Diane Setterfield is one of the most talked-about authors in the world, and as of this writing, her debut novel hasn't even been released yet! The reason this British academic is causing such a stir is because her haunting gothic mystery, The Thirteenth Tale, was the subject of a high-stakes bidding war on both sides of the pond. After she was discovered by novelist Jim Crace (Genesis; Being Dead) at a writing course on how to get published (!), Setterfield's book caught the attention of multiple publishers. As the oft-told story goes, the ten-day bidding war the book inspired resulted in it being sold for a staggering 800,000 pounds in the U.K. and $1 million in the U.S. (to Simon & Schuster). Eight translation deals have also been signed, and the book is also expected to be a hot target for filmmakers.

All of this has been quite a kick for Setterfield, who had been a teacher of French literature and the French language and had only previously published articles on literary theory. "If you ask anybody who has ever thought of writing a book how they feel about getting their work published, they will tell you that nothing could be more thrilling," Setterfield told the Yorkshire Post. "Any serious writer would view it as an enormous privilege to be able to devote the best of their time to what they love, and that's what I'll now be able to do."

As for the book that has attracted all of this rabid attention, Setterfield delivers one of the most intriguing novels to hit book stores in a long time with the story of Margaret Lea. The reclusive, plain Margaret spends her days working in her father's bookshop, where she fuels her fascination for famous writers. When she receives a letter from the legendary Vida Winter—a novelist notorious for toying with journalists and constantly reinventing her own life story—Margaret is given a most intriguing offer. As Vida is aging and ailing, she finally wants to come clean about her past and tell her true story to Margaret. What follows is a labyrinthine descent into the strange and chilling story of Vida's past and her bizarre family history. Critics have lauded The Thirteenth Tale as a credible successor to the greatest works by literary luminaries like Charlotte Brontë and Daphne du Maurier. Publishers Weekly has already applauded its "graceful storytelling that has its own pleasures," and Library Journal notes how the book "grabs the reader with its damp, icy fingers and doesn't let go until the last shocking secret has been revealed."

As for Setterfield, who is currently working on her second novel, she believes that the true gauge of her novel's success is still yet to come. "Of course I'm very happy with how it all seems to be going... but nobody has bought a copy yet," she said. "All the success so far is lovely, but the real acid test will be September when it gets into the shops."

Excerpts from a 2006 Barnes & Noble interview:

• Jobs I had before I began writing, in chronological order: Chambermaid, Shop Assistant (lightbulbs and batteries), Shop Assistant (newspapers and greetings cards), Bakery Assistant (I put the jam into doughnuts. I hate doughnuts.), Assistant in an old people's home, Library Assistant, English Language Tutor, Translator, French Language Tutor, University Lecturer, French Language Tutor again. Writing suits me better than any other job I have had.

• My best vacation: The most recent holiday was the best. My husband and I have just come back from Athens. It was my first visit, the first of many I am sure. My favorite things were: the view of the city from the top of Lycabettus Hill. The mysterious and moving figures in the Museum of Cycladic Art. The glass windows in the pavements where they meant to dig ventilation shafts for the new metro but found such fabulous antiquities that they had to excavate instead. The artichoke/courgette/dill salad at To Kafenio. The birdsong at 6:00 on a May evening at the Kerameikos.

• I have kept a reading diary since I was 18. I am jealous of my friend who has kept hers since she was ten.

• I love to read, obviously. Cooking and eating are joys (as I write this the sun is shining, and I am wondering whether the time is right to buy an ice-cream maker). I am always happy up a ladder with a paintbrush in my hand. And I wish I had more time to spend in the garden -- not least because I get good ideas for writing when I'm out there. I like spending time with my friends. (I did warn you. Writers are not special people. When they're not writing they do exactly the same as everyone else.)

• There is no single book that stands out in my mind as having influenced me in this way. Rather, it is the experience of reading itself that has been central in my life. The addictive pleasure of abandoning yourself to a book, of losing consciousness of your worries, your body, and your surroundings, to become a ghost haunting other worlds has influenced me in many ways....

• My mother says that after I first visited the home of the man I later married, she knew it was serious when I told her, "Mum, he has more books than me!" So, books are at the very heart of my life.

• My favorite book: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. It is the most perfect book I can remember reading. (Bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)

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