Hannah Pakula is the author of The Last Empress, The Last Romantic and An Uncommon Woman, which was a Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist.
Why I write
Writing historical biography, which is what I do, is like returning to a university for an advanced degree in the history of whatever country and epoch my subject inhabited. It serves as a perennial education – only I, not the professor, choose the subject and the specifics.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
When I am not doing my initial research – books, archives, etc. – I write about four hours a day.
Worst source of distraction?
Classical music on the radio.
Best source of inspiration?
The desire to get it right.
How often do you get writers’ block/doubt your own ability?
I never get writer’s block, but I doubt my own ability to the extent that I may look at something I’ve written in the past and have difficulty convincing myself I wrote it.
Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
Favorite Chinese writer?
Bette Bao Lord.
Best book about China?
Favorite book? Favorite writer?
Remembrance of Things Past. Marcel Proust.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
…how much my life has changed since I wrote that.
How did you get started writing?
I did not write seriously until after my marriage to my late husband, director Alan J. Pakula, who gave me the confidence to do it. Now I know why actors were so good in his films.
Does writing change anything?
It changes everything – one’s way of life, one’s outlook and one’s sense of oneself.