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Esther Woolfson

                              Photograph © Simon Clubb

What first inspired you to write?


I don’t really believe in the idea of  ‘inspiration’—it’s a bit too mystical for a process which seems to consist of many things, including hard work!  I’ve always written so that it’s more a way of thinking and of looking at the world that leads on to writing.


What inspires you now?


 Again, I prefer not to use the word ‘inspiration’- there are lots of things that impel me to write, the need to express a particular idea or the desire to take on the challenge of finding the way to do it.


What advice would you give to a new writer?


Read! Read the best of the genre in which you want to write. Read the classics. Know what’s new; follow what’s being published. Be self-critical.


What are you writing?


See below…


What are you reading now?


 I’m reading ‘Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned’- a book of short stories by the American writer Wells Tower, the Everyman edition of the Russian poets, a science textbook about avian biology and ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ by Junot Diaz. I’ve just finished  ‘The Music Room’ by William Fiennes.


Who is your favourite author?


I couldn’t narrow it down to one—my favourite nature writer is not the same as my favourite short story writer, and so on. I like Tolstoy, Nabokov, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, W.G Sebald;  for short stories Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Tobias Wolff, John Updike, Anthony Doerr.


 Who is your favourite literary character?


Lady Montdore in Nancy Mitford’s ‘Love in a Cold Climate’


What future projects do you have planned?


I don’t really like talking about things I’m writing or planning—if I am writing something, I’m scared it’ll go wrong if I talk about it, and if I’m not, I feel generally dissatisfied!


What times do you write?


I’m quite orderly about work. I begin at 8.30 or 9.00 and work (with many coffee breaks) until lunchtime. I may work in the afternoon, depending on how much I have to do but it’s good to get away from it for a while (often at the gym.) If I’m really busy, I work all evening too.


What interests do you have outside writing?


Reading, birds, weight training, gardening, politics, history—and lots more.


Any last words of wisdom?


It was Isak Dinesen who said that she wrote a little every day ‘without hope and without despair’-it’s the best advice there is!





Esther Woolfson was born and brought up in Glasgow and educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Edinburgh University where she studied Chinese. Her short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies and she has won prizes for both them and for nature writing. She has been awarded a Scottish Arts Council Travel Grant and a Writer’s Bursary. As well as writing, she works part-time in an independent bookshop in  Banchory.

A short story ‘Chagall’ was published on the Scottish Arts Council web-site in September 2006 and a non-fiction book,‘Corvus’ was published in hardback by Granta in August, 2008 and by Counterpoint Press in the United States in April 2009. It will be published in paperback by Granta in June 2009.

The novel, ‘Piano Angel’ was published by Two Ravens Press in  October 2008.


Corvus: A Life With Birds


Esther Woolfson has been fascinated by corvids, the bird group that includes crows, rooks, magpies and ravens, since her daughter rescued a fledgling rook sixteen years ago. That rook - named Chicken - has lived with the family ever since. Other birds have also taken their place in the household - a magpie, starling, parrot and the inhabitants of an outdoor dovehouse. But above all, it has been the corvids (a talking magpie named Spike, Chicken the rook, and, recently, a baby crow named Ziki) that she has formed the closest attachments with, amazed by their intelligence, personality and capacity for affection. Living with birds has allowed Woolfson to learn aspects of bird behaviour which would otherwise have been impossible to know - the way they happily become part of the structure of a family, how they communicate, their astonishing empathy. We hear about Chicken's fears and foibles: her hatred of computers and other machines and her love of sitting on Woolfson's knee in the evening and having her neck scratched; the birds' elaborate bathing rituals, springtime broodiness, and tendency to cache food in the most unlikely places. Woolfson tells the darker story of way corvids have always been objects of superstition and persecution; and with the lightest of touches, she weaves in the science of bird intelligence, evolution, song and flight throughout. Her account of her experiences is funny, touching and beautifully written, and gives fascinating insights into the closeness human beings can achieve with wild creatures. August 2008 World volume rights : Granta


Piano Angel


An exceptional multi-layered debut novel set in contemporary New York and Glasgow, and Hungary in the 1950s. Daniel Blum, a successful photographer in his early sixties, is dealing with the aftermath, both practical and emotional, of the death of his brother. Following the recurrence of a brain tumour, Mark chooses to return to his native Glasgow to die, leaving behind in New York his architectural practice, and bewildered friends and family. The processes of illness oblige Mark to re-assess his life and to re-establish contact with Daniel. Much of the bitterness and jealousy in the brothers' relationship stemmed from their friendship as teenagers with a young refugee from Hungary, Anci Goldman. Anci, now a widow and a distinguished children's illustrator in London, reads of Mark's death in a newspaper, and finds her feelings of loss inseparable from her own past and from history. As she embarks on a new commission to illustrate the work of Hans Christian Anderson, she considers her childhood in post-Trianon Hungary, the precarious days of war and the siege of Budapest in 1945. She also thinks about her decision to escape by marrying Istvan Goldmann whose involvement in the secret police has remained unclear. Encouraged by her sons, she decides she will get in touch with Dan, just as he is ready, after forty years, to contact her. October 2008 Two Ravens Press.

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