Post­ed by Nao­mi Firestone-Teeter

Last week, Ben Lern­er expressed his desire for read­ers to be active par­tic­i­pants in the con­struc­tion of what a poem or nov­el means. Today we hear from Sami Rohr Prize final­ist Francesca Segal, author of the 2012 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award win­ning nov­el The Inno­cents. The Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award judges wrote:

Edith Wharton’s nov­els were at once pen­e­trat­ing soci­ol­o­gy and best­selling sto­ries, and so it’s no acci­dent that Francesca Segal’s The Inno­cents, mod­eled on Wharton’s The Age of Inno­cence, can dis­sect a community’s behav­iors and beliefs nim­bly while telling a charm­ing page-turn­ing tale. Set among tra­di­tion­al but not exact­ly Ortho­dox Jew­ish Lon­don­ers, and pep­pered with pre­cise details of the way some of us live now, the nov­el sets up a roman­tic tri­an­gle — a good girl, a good boy who wants to be bad, and a bad“girl, tinged with scan­dal — demon­strat­ing that the old ten­sion between com­mu­ni­ty and indi­vid­ual that engen­dered mod­ern Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture over a cen­tu­ry ago is still alive and well, at least in cer­tain neigh­bor­hoods. What pow­er do our com­mu­ni­ties pos­sess to keep the young in the fold, and at what price do they wield it? Segal man­ages to expose a sig­nal truth of con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish life with warmth and wit.

Below, Francesca Segal writes about her need for peace and qui­et and her desire to keep learning:

What are some of the most chal­leng­ing things about writ­ing fiction?

The lack of imme­di­ate feed­back can be hard – one has to sit on the impulse to show one’s work too ear­ly. It’s vital to have the space and qui­et in order to be cre­ative, and I’m a firm believ­er in fin­ish­ing a com­plete first draft before let­ting any­one else near it, but it can be hard if you need a lit­tle reassurance.

What or who has been your inspi­ra­tion for writ­ing fiction?

Read­ing fic­tion. There are so many writ­ers who have altered my per­spec­tive, sub­tle shifts that have stayed with me, and to whom I owe what­ev­er wis­dom I possess.

Who is your intend­ed audience?

I don’t write with an audi­ence in mind – if I allowed myself to imag­ine that any­one would read what I write, I would be too self-con­scious to pro­duce any­thing. I have to believe it will go no fur­ther than my own desk, and with that comes a lit­tle liberation.

Are you work­ing on any­thing new right now?

Yes, I’m at the begin­ning of the next nov­el. It’s excit­ing and (extreme­ly) nerve-wracking.

What are you read­ing now?

I’m read­ing A Vis­it from the Goon Squad by Jen­nifer Egan, The Peo­ple of For­ev­er Are Not Afraid by Shani Boian­jui, and The Free World by David Bez­mozgis. I like to have a few on the go at once.

Top 5 Favorite Books

This is almost impos­si­ble so I’ve stayed rel­a­tive­ly con­tem­po­rary but –

When did you decide to be a writer?

I don’t remem­ber ever want­i­ng to be any­thing else.

What is the moun­tain­top for you — how do you define success?

All I’ve ever want­ed is the oppor­tu­ni­ty to keep writ­ing, to keep learn­ing, to keep get­ting bet­ter. Suc­cess for me is the chance to pub­lish my sec­ond book, and then hope­ful­ly a third and forth. It’s such an unsta­ble job –my def­i­n­i­tion of suc­cess is to earn the trust of a read­er­ship in the hopes that they will stay with you.

How do you write — what is your pri­vate modus operan­di? What tal­is­mans, rit­u­als, props do you use to assist you?

All I real­ly need is peace and qui­et – although that’s some­times quite a tall order. I used to write in cafes when I need­ed to get out of my apart­ment, until I read a won­der­ful inter­view with Etgar Keret, who I admire huge­ly, say­ing that he thinks we become more self-con­scious in social spaces and that it makes writ­ers more self-con­scious in their prose. I believe that. So now I just bat­tle the cab­in fever at home. That, and a great deal of caffeine.

What do you want read­ers to get out of your book?

I hope that it prompts read­ers to ask ques­tions – about com­mu­ni­ty, about fam­i­ly, about mar­riage. And I don’t think it’s triv­i­al­iz­ing to say that books should give plea­sure, so I do hope that read­ers enjoy the nov­el, and that it feels emo­tion­al­ly honest.

Francesca Segal was born in Lon­don in 1980. Brought up between the UK and Amer­i­ca, she stud­ied at St Hugh’s Col­lege, Oxford, before becom­ing a jour­nal­ist and writer. Her work has appeared in Gran­ta, Newsweek, the Guardian, the Finan­cial Times, and Vogue UK and US, amongst many oth­ers. She has been a fea­tures writer at Tatler, and for three years wrote the Debut Fic­tion col­umn in the Observ­er.

Orig­i­nal­ly from Lan­cast­er, Penn­syl­va­nia, Nao­mi is the CEO of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. She grad­u­at­ed from Emory Uni­ver­si­ty with degrees in Eng­lish and Art His­to­ry and, in addi­tion, stud­ied at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don. Pri­or to her role as exec­u­tive direc­tor, Nao­mi served as the found­ing edi­tor of the JBC web­site and blog and man­ag­ing edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World. In addi­tion, she has over­seen JBC’s dig­i­tal ini­tia­tives, and also devel­oped the JBC’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series and Unpack­ing the Book: Jew­ish Writ­ers in Conversation.