About The Author
Anna was born in London. She lived in Washington DC as a child, but grew up mostly in London with interludes in Beijing and New York. She studied English Literature at Oxford. She then moved to Los Angeles and was awarded a screenwriting scholarship at The American Film Institute.
She has written weekly columns in the Observer and the Sunday Telegraph, as well as other freelance journalism. Her first novel, Isabel and Rocco, was published in 2004 to excellent reviews.
Below she writes exclusively for Foyles about the real Pink Hotel on the seafront at Venich Beach that inspired her new novel, and answers questions about her life as a writer.
The Author At Foyles
The real Pink Hotel
The Pink Hotel is a real place, a massive stucco-pink building on the seafront in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. I stayed there for a week on first arriving in Los Angeles and it became the backdrop for my second novel, The Pink Hotel, a story about a self-destructive English girl who gets more than she bargains for when she turns up uninvited to her estranged mother's funeral at a big pink hotel on the Los Angeles coast.
I only had the guts to go back and visit the hotel again recently, after a three-year absence in which I'd written The Pink Hotel. It was a bit like walking into a physical manifestation of my imagination - a ready-made stage set. My memories of the hotel and my imagination had somehow conflated, so walking through the over-heated corridors I was remembering events from my first week exploring Los Angeles, but my real memories were written-over by my main character's invented memories, so I was also walking through the corridors thinking - oh look, that's where she first met the man she falls in love with, that's where the fight happens, that's the door she escapes out of....
The novel is occupied by the fine-line between self-discovery and self-destruction. The protagonist never knew her mother, and only begins to understand this glamorous, adored woman after finding a suitcase full of letters, photographs and clothes in her mother's bedroom at the top of The Pink Hotel. The daughter spends her summer returning these love letters and photographs, dressing up in her mother's clothes to meet the men who knew and loved her mother. The daughter walks a dangerous line between discovering her own identity over the course of that summer, and echoing what is increasingly revealed to be the very unhappy and decadent life of her mother.
I fell in love with Los Angeles the moment I arrived - everyone's a storyteller in Los Angeles, and there's this constant white light that makes the city glow. But by the end of two years I hated the place - everyone's a storyteller in the City of Angels, and the constant white light means there are no seasons, no sense of time passing.
Questions & Answers
What led you into writing?
Probably lying. The moment I realized I wasn't meant to creatively re-invent the events of my days, I started writing stories.
What was your earliest career aspiration?
I always had glue on my fingers and paint knotted in my hair. I wanted to make furniture, or bind books. For a while, I wanted to be an altarpiece painter, but it turned out I was better with a pen than I was at gilding halos.
Can you describe your latest novel and its inspiration in thirty words?
A London girl gets more than she bargained for when she turns up to her mother's funeral in LA. Inspiration came from stumbling on my mother's old love letters, as a teenager, and from being an English girl living in LA.
Do you have any plans for your next book?
Yes. I'm half way through, but if I describe a story I'm writing it feels like letting a secret slip... the pressure lifts, which in this case wouldn't be a good thing. It's about the end of a relationship, though.
What has been the most exciting moment in your career?
Seeing my first novel, Isabel and Rocco, in print.
What are you reading right now?
I'm reading Raymond Carver short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
If you could have dinner with any three people, past or present, who would they be?
I'd have Ted Hughes, because his voice makes me melt. I grew up listening to him on audio-tapes. I'd rather not share him, but if I absolutely had to have three people, then I expect the Greek poet Sappho would be good value at a dinner party, and she'd get on well with Hughes. And then I'd throw in a young Truman Capote, to keep the glasses full. I'd let Ted Hughes carve, though.
Which period in history would you most like to have lived through?
Having recently returned from traveling in Syria, I'd chose to live in the oasis city of Palmyra under the rule of Queen Zenobia, around AD260, when the warrior queen defied Roman rule and created a short-lived Palmyrene Empire. The ruins of Palmyra are breathtaking so it would have been amazing to see them in their glory-days, although perhaps not so much fun to be there when the Roman Emperor Aurelian turned up to ransack the city and bring Queen Zenobia to heel....
If your house was on fire, which three books would you save from the flames?
I'd save art books that belonged to my Grandma - one on Arthur Rackham, one on the evolution of Human Anatomy drawing, one on Aubrey Beardsley. They still have some of her sketches in them, fading between the pages.
What do you do to relax?
Drink. Read. Have baths. Sometimes all three together.
Past Events for this Author