Elizabeth Noble was born in December 1968, in Buckinghamshire, England. She was educated in England and Canada, where the family lived for several years in Toronto.
In 1990 she graduated from St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University, with a B.A. (Honors) in English language and literature. But it was the diploma (Intensive Secretarial) that she was awarded by the typing school above the Italian café in Covent Garden that got her into her chosen career -- publishing. Over a six year period she worked in the editorial, marketing, publicity, and sales departments of several big publishing houses -- moving every couple of years, once she had made a big enough mess in the filing (note to bewildered successors: check under "m" for miscellaneous). This makes her a tricky author. She speaks fluent publishing.
She took a career break -- she called it "retired" -- to have her two daughters, after her marriage in 1996. When her youngest daughter was ready to go to nursery school, and real work beckoned, she decided to try what she had been threatening to do for years, and wrote a hundred pages of The Reading Group.
Then it took her nine months to work up the courage to send it to an agent. The Reading Group was published in the UK in January 2004 and went straight to the number-one position in The Sunday Times's Fiction Bestseller list. She was supposed to be signing stock in London bookshops the day the chart was announced, but she had grown bored and was trying on trousers -- they didn't fit -- in a ladies' clothing store when the call came. So she was literally caught with her pants down.
The book has since sold almost a quarter of a million copies in the UK. But the other day her elder daughter, Tallulah, told her she would rather she got a job in a chicken plucking factory because then she would be at home more, so she doesn't think there is much danger of her getting conceited.
She has recently finished her second novel -- there were no vacancies at the chicken plucking factory -- and begun her third.
She lives with her husband and their ungrateful children in a haunted vicarage in "the safest village in Surrey," England. They obviously don't know about the ghost.
Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.
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Some outtakes from our interview with Elizabeth Noble:
"Researching my novels has changed my life. This year alone, in the name of research, I have abseiled 100 feet off of a viaduct, learnt how to gamble, and danced on stage in a Las Vegas show. At the ripe old age of 36, I've finally realized that you are only here once, and I'm never going to say no to a new experience again (so long as its legal!)."
"I am perpetually engaged in a quest to be thinner, fitter, have better hair, and look more stylish. I'm usually losing."
"Each morning, I pump up the volume on the stereo and dance about the living room with my five- and seven-year-old daughters. It's the best ten minutes of every day."
"I am incredibly close to my parents and siblings. We have gone in very different directions -- my brother teaches mathematics in France, and my sister is a midwife -- but we all have a strong sense of family."
"My friends are hugely important to me, and spending time with them is a precious part of my life."
"I like chocolate, floral white wines, cinema, and being lazy. I love U.S. import TV -- Sex and the City, The West Wing, Desperate Housewives, and Six Feet Under (God bless HBO!)."
"I dislike almost all politicians, pushy parents, and bad manners. And I hate, hate, hate cell phones, and the fact that they mean you can never be ‘unavailable.' "
"I unwind in a hot bath with a big glass of wine, and my ultimate luxury would be 12 hours sleep a night (but my children do not agree)."
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In the spring of 2005, Elizabeth Noble took the time out to answer some of our questions about her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
A thousand books have influenced my life as a writer, and it is practically impossible to name just one that has inspired you above the others. But since you're making me, I'm going to name the classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, which I read as a girl and remember as the first novel that gripped me and made me say, as I reluctantly got to the end, "I want to write one day." I absolutely loved, and felt for, Francie Nolan.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin -- Can I cheat and group these six amazing novels together as one choice? I first read these in my early 20s and remember devouring them one after the other, like chocolate. Hilarious, warm, sad, and beautifully written -- I felt like Mouse and Mrs. Madrigal and the others were my friends. I was so fed up to get to the end of the series.
The World According to Garp -- by John Irving -- Irving's style is unique. Seal-headed Garp lives on in my mind many years after I first read his story.
A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford -- Which is, I think, still one of the very best examples of a fat, satisfying, involving saga that truly involves you in the life of its characters. Emma is totally alive for the reader, and you care desperately about her.
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons -- I loved Tully, her first novel, too. But the scope of this novel, a truly epic love story set in World War II Russia, is breathtaking.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier -- I am an absolute sucker for unrequited love, and this novel is about, for me, the ultimate thwarted lovers. Your whole body wills Inman to get back to his Ada (and wishes it could change the ending!). I also love the wealth of detail and great sense of place in the novel.
My Ántonia by Willa Cather -- For its unforgettable heroine. I studied American literature one incredible term at Oxford and loved discovering Stephen Crane, Flannery O'Connor, and Willa Cather, and I thought this book was a brilliant telling of the pioneer story.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters -- Sarah Waters writes complicated plots and incredibly engaging characters. Dickensian in detail and in their vivid exploration of the dirty underbelly of Victorian England, I love them. This one is my favorite.
Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence -- A male novelist with an extraordinary understanding of the female psyche. His novels simply ooze with emotion and feeling. Heartbreaking, and as sexy as hell. And a book that bears re reading.
The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle -- I didn't think a writer could ever make me understand domestic violence the way that Doyle does in this extraordinary novel. As a sort of love story, it is spectacularly affecting and moving. I don't remember crying so much reading anything else, ever.
The Best a Man Can Get by John O'Farrell -- This novel, about the male perspective on love, marriage, and family, is simply hilarious. And sometimes you just want to have a laugh.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
I love colorful, flamboyant musicals -- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Meet Me in St. Louis, Showboat -- that kind of thing. I've recently seen my first Bollywood film, and they have it too, that infectious, over-the-top exuberance.
I'm always fascinated to see films made of books I've read -- recent examples of it being done brilliantly are Girl with a Pearl Earring -- which does, indeed, look exactly like a Vermeer painting, even if they took a few liberties with Chevalier's ending; I Capture the Castle, which was adorable; and Cold Mountain, in which I think Anthony Minghella brought Inman and Ada alive just as they had been in my imagination.
The best film I've seen this year is undoubtedly Closer -- an uncomfortable, thought-provoking film to watch, with stunning performances from the starring quartet.
But my desert island DVD would still have to be Gone with the Wind, even though I practically know it off by heart, for its fabulous sets, iconic performances, and the mesmerizing Vivien Leigh.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
My daughters and I listen to loud contemporary pop in the car -- we love Keane, Franz Ferdinand, Maroon 5, and the Scissor Sisters. Damien Rice's album O makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
For writing, I scan our vast collection of CDs for apposite pieces of music and put them on to get me in the mood -- so it might be Bruch's Violin Concerto for sad bits, k. d. lang for moody, U2 for a bit of aggro....
And certain pieces of music take me back to inspiring times in my own life. I won't tell you why, but Crowded House's "Fall at Your Feet," Fairground Attraction's "Perfect," and Sting's "Fields of Gold," for example, can all push certain buttons for me!
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
I do, and this month we are reading The Mermaid and the Drunks by Ben Richards. Because, although for 11 out of the 12 months of the year we are a women-only group, once a year we let our slightly jealous husbands come to a big mixed meeting, and they get to choose. They chose this, and I am looking forward to a raucous discussion!
But for next month I'd like someone -- we take turns -- to choose Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, because when we did Atonement, we had a great, animated discussion.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Cookery books -- with great, mouthwatering photographs. I particularly love Jamie Oliver's books, because his passion about food is contagious, and Nigella Lawson, whose prose is a joy to read; she makes much of the rituals of food, particularly in her book Feast. But if someone takes the trouble to handpick a novel they think you will enjoy, that can be very touching.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
My girls have a trampoline in the garden -- and once an hour I go and have a little bounce to get the blood flowing again. It's a great place to process a thought!
On the desk is a picture of my husband and children. It's the one place in my home where I try and be a little Zen.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I was very lucky, and my agent sold my first novel, The Reading Group, first go, to an editor in the U.K., from 100 pages and a synopsis. Rejection is horrid, for anyone, and I am full of admiration for the perseverance of writers with drawers full of rejection slips. One agent declined to take me on, and it stung like a slap! One of my first jobs, as an editorial secretary at the publishers in 1990, was to deal with the "slush" pile -- about ten unsolicited manuscripts arrived daily for the attention of my boss. I always used to wonder who these poor souls would feel if they knew their life's works were being summarily dealt with by a pretty clueless 21-year-old!
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be -- and why?
He is certainly not a new writer, but I feel quite evangelical about the brilliant, wonderful Patrick Gale. All of his novels are fantastic, but The Facts of Life is one of the best stories I have read in years.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
It is hard to answer that kind of question without sounding trite or patronizing, but I suppose my main message of advice would be to keep writing so long as you enjoy doing it, and to remain true to yourself -- you cannot write by committee.
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