BOOKS: Emma Forrest looks back on a life less ordinaryIt’s disconcerting to sit across from someone whom you’ve just met, but feel you know intimately. Anyone who has read Emma Forrest’s remarkable new memoir, Your Voice In My Head, would be armed with the same facts: a wunderkid music journalist who began wracking up major bylines in her native London at 15; tried to kill herself at 22; wonderful parents, amazing therapist, bad luck with men; funny, sad, self-aware and bipolar. She was also tabloid fodder thanks to a high-profile romance with Hollywood bad boy Colin Farrell, who may or may not be the Gypsy Man who broke her heart and became a key plot point in the story of her life.
It’s a life that Forrest writes about with the kind of aching clarity and black comedy that belies her 33 years. Sitting across from her in the lobby bar of a Vancouver hotel, she smiles warmly and passes on the proper tea-serving technique she learned from her dad (milk in first, or “MIF,” as he says). She jokes easily, and the wit and gallows humour that permeates the memoir translates easily off the page.
I wept openly in my office when I started the book, and had to take it home. How are other journalists handling interviewing you?
Well, you know what’s interesting. Absolutely the opposite in England. Because I’ve been a journalist for a long time there... I’ve been in the public eye from 15, a lot of the people who wrote about it in London were not crying in public, they were like, cursing me in public. (Laughs) People who, in writing about the book, were basically saying that they didn’t like me. That I was a good writer, but they didn’t like me. I mean, you can see it online, you can Google, but there was a Times review, and Observer review, and both were just really focused on my past as a journalist and on what they knew about me... There was sort of a generational divide in the English take, whereas the younger writers, the ones who are either my age or younger than me loved it, but the ones who remember me from way back when, sort of couldn’t get past that.
I first found out about the book from a Vancouver-based blogger who runs the website called LaineyGossip.com
Holy fuck. She’s clearly fascinating. I was sent that piece and it was such good writing because literary criticism is hard, and it’s hard to explain why you like something as abstract as a book, especially a memoir. You know, from writing about music, it’s hard to describe why music moves you and it’s hard to describe why words move you. And, I just thought it was such a well-written piece and not just because she was nice about me. She must be one of those people like Jeanette Walls, who wrote The Glass Castle, who was a gossip columnist. And she wrote this amazing memoir, like serious, profoundly literary memoir about her family; and from the little bits I was getting from what Lainey was saying, I’m sure she’s got a big, serious literary memoir somewhere in her. It was a nice reminder that there really aren’t barriers anymore between high and low culture. Here is this Internet gossip blogger who, when she wants to, is writing in this very lofty and intellectual style. And when I looked at her site, the way she just writes about whatever she likes, but moves between the high and the low. And, I’m not saying whether I’m high or low culture, I think I’m both, whereas someone like Perez [Hilton] is just a grade-A moron. Terrible writer, horrific human being, downfall of the Western world...
It’s your memoir, but the book involves a lot of other people, which makes it their story as well.
I gave them the chance to read it before it went to press. Before I even started it, I contacted Dr. R’s widow and said, ‘I’m writing this book, is that okay?’ And she said, ‘Yes, but anonymise him.’ She read it before it was sent to press, but now that she’s read it as an actual book, she said can you put his real name back in for future editions, because she loved it so much. The boyfriends, there were like three boyfriends I gave it to to say if they wanted anything changed. One of them said that I had got stuff wrong, and I said, ‘Oh God, I’ll change it.’ And he said, ‘Don’t change it. You’re a writer, stick up for what you said.’ One of them loved it so much that he wanted me to put his real name in. I was like, no, over-ruling you. And, the other said, ‘You know what, I don’t need to read it, do what you like.’ Certainly if any of those people had said, ‘I hate it, you’re a terrible person,’ I wouldn’t be promoting it with such confidence.
The book is a fierce advocate for talking about mental health issues.
It’s a lot of responsibility because people want prescriptions. Some people do, anyways, or they want me to speak about this cause or that cause. It really is how I got better, and I’m not sure it would work — I mean I hope it would work for other people, but I don’t have a medical degree and I’m not a psychiatrist — so the best I can do is listen to people’s stories. A lot of the time I can only put people in touch with other people. I’m getting this letter from a mother and this letter from a kid, and I’m like, do you guys wanna talk to each other? There’s this great human connectivity, that’s the nicest part coming out of it. I’ll get amazing letter after amazing letter, and they’re usually really sad, but it’s all kinds of sadness across the spectrum, and weirdly I find that comforting, ’cause every one’s got some tragedy. That’s the gift of books when they work. It’s not even the specificity of what happened to me, but rather, again to come back to this idea of how hard it is to describe music, I think even having depression described with some clarity is comforting to people who suffer from depression.