Interview by JJ Marsh, author of the Beatrice Stubbs series
Polly Courtney is the author of six published novels. She started out as an investment banker and wrote her first book, Golden Handcuffs, because she wanted to expose the reality of life in the Square Mile. Having discovered her passion, she went on to write Poles Apart, a light-hearted novel based on her Polish migrant friend’s experiences in England. Subsequent novels have covered sexism, racism, fame culture and the summer riots.
In late 2011, Polly famously walked out on her publisher, HarperCollins, for the ‘girly’ titles and covers assigned to her books – most notably, It’s a Man’s World, the hard-hitting take on the lads’ mag industry and its impact on society.
She plays football for her local side, Acton Ladies, and is a firm supporter of the women’s game in the UK. Polly also plays violin in the semi-professional string quartet, No Strings Attached, which provided the inspiration for her third novel, The Fame Factor.
Which book most influenced you when growing up?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Full of stinging injustice.
Describe your writing space – what’s in it and why?
It’s pretty functional: desk, laptop, random notes and character sketches pinned to the wall and my cat, Peppa, purring like a motorbike in the background.
Who or what had the biggest impact on your writing life?
The sense of freedom, creativity and entrepreneurship instilled in me from a very young age. I think seeing my dad build his own business from scratch gave me the drive to take the leap from banking to writing.
What made you choose to expose City culture when you did?
It was a combination of my own personal misery as an investment banker and the growing sense of disgust and distrust towards the City in general. It felt as though a storm was brewing and I was desperate to get my story out before someone else did.
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse?
“The truth is…”
You tackle tough contemporary subjects such as machismo, immigration and disaffected youth. Does it ever get you down?
It’s actually therapeutic. By getting under the skin of the issues and turning them inside-out, it feels as though maybe, in a small way, I might change things.
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t? Or one you expected to hate and fell for?
The Help by Kathryn Stockett – I thought it was so over-hyped I’d hate it, but it was amazing: a real flavour of 1960s Mississippi life, with a satisfying helping of prejudice and vindication.
What’s your view on the rapid changes in publishing?
It’s so exciting! Authors are finally getting to take control of their destiny and readers are getting a better deal. The two most important players in the game have been sidelined for way too long.
Do you have a guilty reading pleasure?
All of Ben Elton’s books. I lap them up.
Would you write a book set in another country?
I wouldn’t rule it out. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in the world and I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface. That said, there’s so much to say about what’s going on in our own back yard. Feral Youth was borne out of the frustrations brewing just down the road, in south London, and I’m not sure I’m done there yet…
Which book has impressed you most this year?
A little-known book that hasn’t yet hit Amazon called Seeing is Deceiving by A D Whittenbury, which is the true story of a blind woman and her search for a missing cat. Truly inspirational.
If you had the choice, what would the cover for It’s a Man’s World look like?
It would be called Harmless Banter, not It’s a Man’s World, and would be a bold, two-tone style like Feral Youth, with an iconic image to represent lads’ mag culture in a smart way. As for the image… ah, so many options!
You are truly a Renaissance woman: literary, musical and sporting prowess. Who’s your string supremo and footie ace?
Vanessa Mae was my childhood idol and Kelly Smith (ex England captain) has always been my inspiration on the pitch.
JJ Marsh – author, reader, Triskelite, journalist, Nuancer, reviewer and blogger. Likes: pugs, Werner Herzog and anchovies. Dislikes: meat, chocolate and institutionalised sexism.