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Tessa Hadley

Novelist and short story writer

Born in Bristol, England. Based in London, England, UK

Writers main Categories

Fiction

Languages spoken

English

About

Tessa Hadley has written six novels – including Accidents in the Home and The London Train - and two collections of short stories.

Her latest novel, The Past, 2015, was awarded the Hawthornden prize.

She publishes short stories regularly in the New Yorker, reviews for the Guardian and the London Review of Books, and is Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University; she was awarded a Windham Campbell prize for Fiction in 2016.

She is married with three grown-up sons, and after living for thirty years in Cardiff, Wales, in 2011 she moved with her husband to live in London. 

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Bibliography

The Past, 2015, Jonathan Cape

Clever Girl, 2013, Jonathan Cape

Married Love (stories), 2013, Jonathan Cape

The London Train, 2011, Jonathan Cape

The Master Bedroom, 2007, Jonathan Cape

Sunstroke (stories), 2007, Jonathan Cape

Everything Will Be All Right, 2003, Jonathan Cape

Accidents in the Home, 2002, Jonathan Cape

Extract: The Past

Alice was the first to arrive, but she discovered when she stood at the front door that she had forgotten her key. The noise of their taxi receding, like an insect burrowing between the hills, was the only sound at first in the still afternoon, until their ears got used to other sounds: the jostling of water in the stream that ran at the bottom of the garden, a tickle of tiny movements in the hedgerows and grasses. At least it was an afternoon of balmy warmth, its sunlight diffused because the air was dense with seed-floss, transparent-winged midges, pollen; light flickered on the grass, and under the silver birch leaf-shadows shifted, blotting their penny-shapes upon one another. Searching through her bag Alice put on a show of amusement and scatty self-deprecation. She was famously hopeless with keys. She had come with a young man who was her ex-boyfriend’s son and on the train she had been preoccupied with the question of what stage of life she was at, whether people seeing them would think Kasim was her lover, or her child – though he wasn’t either. Now he walked away from her around the house without saying anything, and she thought that this mishap with the keys had shrivelled her in his opinion, he was bored already. They were in the country, in the middle of nowhere with no way back; the house was set behind a cluster of houses on a no-through road where there was no café or pub or even shop where they could pass the time.

Behind her smiles she raged at Kasim for a moment. She wished now that she hadn’t brought him. It had been a careless suggestion in a moment of feeling bountiful, having this place to offer; she hadn’t really expected him to take her up on it and had been flattered when he did. But if she had been alone the keys wouldn’t have mattered. It would have been a kind of bliss, even, to be shut out from the responsibility of opening up the house and making it ready for the others. She could have dropped onto the grass in the sunshine. She could have let go her eternal vigilance and fallen deep down here, in this place – Kington - of all places, into sleep, the real thing, the sleep that she was always seeking for and could never quite get. Alice was forty-six, dark, concentrated yet indefinite – she could look like a different person in different photographs. Her complex personality was diffuse, always flying away in different directions, like her fine hair which a man had once described as prune-coloured; it was soft and brown like the soft inside of prunes, and she wore it curling loose on her shoulders.

The house was a white cube two storeys high, wrapped round on all four sides by garden, with French windows and a veranda at the back and a lawn sloping to a stream; the walls inside were mottled with brown damp, there was no central heating, and the roof leaked. On the mossy roof slates, thick as pavings, you could see the chisel marks where the quarrymen had dressed them two hundred years ago. Alice and Kasim stood peering through the French windows: the interior seemed to be a vision of another world, its stillness pregnant with meaning like a room seen in a mirror. The rooms were still furnished with Alice’s grandparents’ furniture; wallpaper glimmered silvery behind the spindly chairs, upright black-lacquered piano, bureau. Paintings were pits of darkness suspended from the picture rail. Alice had told her therapist that she dreamed about this house all the time. Every other house she’d lived in seemed, beside this one, only a stage set for a performance.

Kasim didn’t care about not getting inside; vaguely he was embarrassed because Alice had made a fool of herself. He wasn’t sure how long he would stay anyway, and had only come to get away from his mother, who was anxious because he wasn’t studying - at the end of his first year at university he was bored. He imagined he could smell the room’s musty old age through the glass; the carpet was bleached and threadbare where the sun patched it. When he found a cheerfully shabby grey Renault parked on the cobbles beside the outhouses he called to Alice: Alice didn’t drive and couldn’t tell one car from another, but looking inside she knew it must belong to Harriet, her older sister. There was a box with maps in it on the back seat, and next to it on a folded newspaper a pair of shoes neatly side by side, with one striped sock tucked into the top of each. -I know exactly what she’s done, she said. -Arrived here and left the car and gone straight off for a walk before the rest of us got here. She’s that sort of person. She loves nature and communes with it, in a principled way. She thinks I’m frivolous.

The little display of ordered privacy made Harriet seem vulnerable to Alice; it touched and irritated her.

-Perhaps your sister forgot her key too.

–Harriet’s never forgotten anything in her life.

Because they couldn’t get inside the house, Alice felt obliged to go on showing things to Kasim. She took him into the churchyard through a keyhole gap in a stone wall in the back garden. Their grandfather had been the minister here. The house and the church stood together on the rim of a bowl of air scooped deep between the surrounding hills, and buzzards floated on thermals in the air below them. The ancient stubby tower of the church, blind without windows, seemed sunk in the red earth; the nave was disproportionately all window by contrast, and the clear old quavering glass made its stone walls appear weightless – you saw straight through to the green of  trees on the far side. In the churchyard the earth was upheaved as turbulently as a sea by all the burials in it, and overgrown at one end with tall hogweed and rusty dock. Her grandparents’ grave, red granite, was still shiny-new after a quarter of a century. Her grandfather had been very high church, Alice said: incense and the Authorised Version and real hell, or at least some complicated clever kind of hell.

–He was a very educated man, and a poet. A famous poet.

Kasim was studying economics, he didn’t care about poetry: though he didn’t care much about economics either. Loose-jointed, he ambled after Alice round the churchyard, hands in pockets, only half-interested, head cocked to listen to her. Alice always talked a lot. Kasim was very tall and much too thin, with brown skin and a big nose lean as a blade; his smudged-black eyes drooped eloquently at the corners, the lower lids purplish, fine-skinned; his blue-black hair was thick as a pelt. He was completely English and unmistakeably something else too - his paternal grandfather, a Punjabi judge, had been married briefly to an English novelist. Now Alice was worrying that he would find the country tedious; somehow this hadn’t occurred to her when she’d invited him in London. What she loved best in Kington was doing nothing – reading or sleeping. It was obvious now they’d arrived that this wouldn’t be enough for Kasim, and she sagged under her responsibility to entertain him. Because he was young and she was forty-six, she was afraid of failing to interest him; she would be crushed if he didn’t like it here. Alice was painfully stalled by beginning to lose her looks. She had always believed that it was her personality and intelligence which gave her what power she had. Her looks she had taken for granted.