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Writing biography

28 October 2020

‘You write a biography from the vantage point of where you are: your gender, your race, your class. It's not a love affair or a marriage: it's a job. You're not writing autobiography; you're writing about some other person, usually a dead person. You can only access them in as far as you have materials and witnesses to allow you to access them. You are at the mercy of what you can find and read and hear and see. You become as intimate as you can with the life and work of this person... But there is always going to be a gap...

At the beginning, you don't know what you're looking for. The shape comes at you as you get deeper into the archive, and a strange force field starts to grow, as you concentrate intensely for years on end on one person... Stuff oddly comes at you in ways you don't expect.'

Hermione Lee, author of many books including biographies of Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Penelope Fitzgerald and now Tom Stoppard, her only living subject, in the New Statesman.