“A cardinal amongst writers”Independent
“A writer of enormous ability and harrowing power’Mail on Sunday
“… sidesteps any temptation to senti¬mentalise or play to the gallery, and there are few opportunities for tears, although plenty for shock.”Readers Companion to the Twentieth Century Novel
Both my parents were writers. My father wrote several important books on economics while teaching at the University of California at Berkeley; my mother was an eminent journalist, largely responsible for the US Truth in Lending bill. But I was bad at school; I couldn't even read until I was eight years old. The only thing I was good at was ballet, so it's probably not surprising that I wanted nothing else until I was twenty; I danced with both the San Francisco Ballet and the New York City Ballet.
When the shift away came, it was because I fell in love with yet another writer, Dexter Masters. I married him, bore a son — Alexander Masters, author of the celebrated books Stuart a Life Backwards and Simon, the Genius in my Basement — picked up a degree in philosophy, moved from New York to Totnes, Devon in the UK, kept house, typed Dexter’s manuscripts and finally published some of my own short stories when I was about 35. My first novel came out a few years later; not long after that came an autobiography called the Unmaking of a Dancer called Prologue when it first appeared in the UK).
Then came a ten-year period during which I wrote draft after draft of a novel that won a US National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Joyce Carol Oates was the judge, but no publisher was interested. I put it aside when Dexter’s health failed. After he died, I spent another year on it and renamed it Theory of War; it won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award now known as the Costa Book of the Year; I was the first woman as well as the only American ever to win. It also won France's Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger.
I was at work on a fifth novel when a local industry began polluting the air in my Devon house. I complained bitterly. Instead of addressing the problem, my local Council trumped up some charges and brought a private criminal prosecution against me.
They threatened me with prison and summoned me to court 15 times over the course of 2 ½ years. In the end, they had to withdraw and pay me compensation, but I was so outraged at the injustice of it all that I wanted to line people up against a wall and machine gun them. My novel suddenly seemed irrelevant. I put it aside and began work on violent thriller called Bleedout.
The local industry’s pollution wasn’t just unpleasant. It caused permanent nerve damage. I brought a personal injury suit against them, and in January 2008, I won. A few months later, I finished a second thriller, Venom, published in the spring of 2009. A third thriller, The Blue Death, came out in April 2012.
I’m not sure what comes next. Maybe a biography of a man I knew who spent his life fighting one of the greatest injustices ever inflicted on an individual by the US government. Or maybe an attempt to find out why my father killed himself.
Maybe one day, I’ll calm down enough to finish the novel my local Council’s prosecution forced me to drop. I’d like that. I still think it was a very good idea.
Highlights in a Career
Winning the Whitbread Novel and Book of the Year
It all began very quietly. An announcement arrived at Andre Deutsch, publisher of my novel Theory of War. “Dear Publisher,” it said. “Congratulations on being short-listed for one of the 1993 Whitbread Awards. ” [read more…]
Winning the Prix de Meilleur Livre Etranger
In the summer of 1995, my foreign rights agent called me and told me that I’d won a prestigious French Prize called the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger. “Never heard of it,” I scoffed. She sent me a list of previous winners. The first name I caught was Elias Canetti. The Canetti? Winner of the Nobel Prize? Surely not. [read more…]
Representing England at the 100th Anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize
The invitation came by email. I thought it was a joke. I mean, really, an invitation to represent England at the 100th Anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway? Me? It also said I was to share a stage with Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Which sounded even more insane. [read more…]
I am very fortunate in my family. All of them have been wonderfully successful.
My son is Alexander Masters, author of Stuart: a Life Backwards. He wrote the television adaptation of the book —a joint BBC/HBO venture from Sam Mendes’ studio — which was screened in both the UK and the US. Stuart and Bleedout were published on the same day. His next book, Simon, The Genius in My Basement will appear in paperback on the same day that my thriller, The Blue Death , appears in hardback.
My husband was Dexter Masters author of The Accident, the first novel to deal with nuclear issues, so controversial in its time that the US the movie version of it. Dexter was also editor of the recently reissued One World or None, with articles by Einstein, Oppenheimer, Szilard and Bethe among others.
If you’ve ever heard people say that what they really need is a wife, they’re quoting my sister, Judy Brady, who wrote “Why I Want a Wife” for the first issue of Ms. magazine in 1972. It has become feminist classic. She lives in San Francisco and has written on many subjects including abortion, education, the labour and women's movements and most particularly the politics of cancer. (Please note that “Why I Want a Wife” is under copyright)
Mildred Edie Brady
My mother was Mildred Edie Brady, co-founder of Consumers Union, economist, journalist, author of articles so influential and so controversial that she is still widely attacked for them half a century later. Harpers Magazine is right now re-posting her “The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy” [link to article], but the one that upsets so many people is “The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich”.
My father was Robert A. Brady, economist, author of the first book to recognize the Nazi threat in Germany, The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism, which was published in several countries and sold more than 40,000 copies in England alone, and is still readily available in both the US and the UK.
My son’s partner is Flora Dennis, Curator of At Home in Renaissance Italy, the extremely successful exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in January 2007, and editor of the book — with the same name — that accompanied it.
My husband’s first wife was Christina Malman, a New Yorker artist of great talent. She drew 26 covers for the magazine and hundreds of spots, those small black and white illustrations that still pepper the pages. I have dozens of originals. The original of the cover shown is hanging on my living room wall. Several, including this one, are available from The New Yorker Cartoonbank.
My husband’s uncle was the major American poet Edgar Lee Masters, eminent enough to rate a US stamp of his very own. His Spoon River Anthology has never been out of print since it was published in 1915. It is downloadable from the Guttenberg Project.
The Whitbread Book of the Year
The Whitbread Novel of the Year
Prix de Meilleur Livre Etranger
National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship