Do you agree with our view that your story reads like an extended parable? Was that your intention?
I didn’t intend for Apple Tree Yard to be a parable. Initially it was just a story about a woman in peril, but it emerged during the writing of it that there were some implied lessons in what happens to Yvonne. Hilary Mantel has said it is a book about ‘the fine line women walk’ and I think that’s very true. The price Yvonne pays for stepping out of line is very high – unreasonably high. I think there is still a sense in which a woman’s morality is judged in terms of her sexual morality. Yvonne is actually a really conventional woman, but that’s not the way she’s seen after one mistake.
Please explain Yvonne’s scientific knowledge and expertise as a key factor in the events that consume her.
It was really important to me that Yvonne was a scientist – a geneticist, to be specific. All her life, she has believed in being rational, in working hard to get what she wants and in making decisions based on firm evidence. Then she meets a man and falls for him in a very highly charged, irrational kind of way. She feels a level of passion that 423 logic just can’t explain. I was interested in exploring how a highly successful and intelligent woman could do that. Eventually I worked out, as Yvonne does in the novel, that the irrationality of her behaviour is the whole point. She has reached a time in her life when she needs to do something out of character.
Yvonne has not had sex with her husband (who she loves) for years. How important is that as a catalyst for what ensues?
Yvonne and her husband have reached a stage in their relationship where they are housemates, loving housemates perhaps, but not really engaged with each other on a romantic level. I think that’s almost inevitable in any longterm relationship, particularly one that has revolved around raising children and two busy careers. But there is an additional reason why they have stopped having sex that concerns her husband’s conduct – that’s revealed in Part Two of the book. I hope when the reader discovers that, they will feel a little more sympathy for Yvonne’s behaviour.
Have you, personally, ever encountered someone with the kind of compulsive personality Yvonne’s lover displays?
Absolutely! I think there is a certain category of people who need an ongoing drama in their lives in order to feel alive. Daily life is humdrum: we get up in the morning, get the kids to school or go off to work – and every now and then, we are bound to feel, what’s it all about? But some 424 people feel like that all the time; they need to know that they are the hero or heroine of their own particular story, that if someone was making a film about their lives, they would be the stars. I’ve met quite a few people like that in my time, women as well as men, although more often men. It’s no coincidence that Yvonne and her lover meet in the Houses of Parliament, a place riddled with corridors of power, the sort of atmosphere that adds a frisson to almost any encounter – people who work in high-pressure jobs are particularly vulnerable to affairs, I think. They get addicted to excitement and that translates to their personal lives.