Out Of My Head And Into The Land
The Body, Brain, and Books: Eleven Questions with writer Farrah Storr
What are you reading now?
I’m travelling at the moment so a selection of things- I have the Sharon Stone biography with me because I just rewatched a couple of her 90s films recently and it reminded me what an underrated actress she was. The book is smart and insightful and not at all like your regular Hollywood memoir. I’m also re-reading In Praise of Shadows by Junichoro Tanizaki, largely because I’m travelling through Japan and I am obsessed, not with how they use light, but how they use shadow to create calm and beauty. It is a very special book. I’ve also got Nigel Slater’s Eating For England. He is something of a national treasure in the UK, as loved for his recipes, which he has been publishing in the Observer for over two decades, as his way with words. There is no other writer who gets close to him when it comes to writing about food.
What are your most beloved books from your youth? Did you ever hide any from your parents?
I adored The Outsiders by SE Hilton. I was 12 when I first read it and it taught me an awful lot about empathy at a very pivotal time in my life. I have gone on to do varying amounts of work throughout my life supporting kids in lower income households and I genuinely put it down to reading this book.
I didn’t hide any of my books from my parents but I did have to hide the fact I read my mum’s copy of The Thornbirds. There were some pretty sexually charged scenes in there.
What’s your favorite book to reread? Any that helped you through a dark time?
The books that lift me are always about gardening. They take me out of my head and into the land and for me that’s the best way to deal with anything. Vita Sackville West, one time lover of Virginia Wolfe and the woman behind the word famous garden Sissinghurst (which is down the road from where I live) has some excellent collections of gardening books. They sit on my bedside table and I dip in and out of them as the mood takes me.
What’s an article of clothing that makes you feel most like you?
There is a navy-blue, round necked fisherman’s jumper that my mother bought me many years ago. It is cashmere and so very soft. There are holes under the armpits and the elastic has gone form the cuffs so that it sort of drips off the end of my arms, but it feels like me. It feels safe.
What’s the best piece of wisdom you've encountered recently?
I wrote a piece recently about the changes my body has gone through in my 40s (and my denial to accept that) and a very thoughtful reader who I know only aswrote: I’ve come to realise that the ultra slim version of me from years past was held in place with adrenaline. And when you soften, and centre, and come more into yourself, your body fills out. It needs to, as it needs more space to breathe. I thought that was really something.
Tell me about any special relationship you’ve had with an animal, domestic or wild?
My dog Parker. She is wildly neurotic, deeply sensitive and feels like a little girl dressed in a dog’s costume most days. We bought her a few weeks after we decided not to have children. Dogs are no substitute for a family, I’m wise enough to know that, but the love has knocked me sideways.
What's one thing you are happy worked out differently than you expected?
That I didn’t have children. We tried and we tried and in between the trying we had space to think and breath and gather our feelings together. Turns out having a family was not a great desire for either myself or my husband. There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think it was the right decision not to have children. Many people find that hard to accept. It took me a while too, believe me.
Singing in the shower or dancing in the kitchen? Or another favorite way your body expresses itself?
Oh God, I’m British, Neither! Quietly talking to myself is my favourite form of self-expression
What are your hopes for yourself?
To keep my head and open my heart
What’s a kindness that changed your life?
The everyday simple kindness of strangers always gets me: someone giving you their seat on the train home because you look exhausted; letting you in pass in front of them at the supermarket check-out because you have less items than them in your basket; another women letting you know you have lipstick on your teeth. They owe us nothing- and yet they do it anyway. What a wonderful way to be.
What’s a guiding force in your life?
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Have you been on the receiving end of any acts of kindness from strangers? Children or no children—and how do you feel about your decision? Any beloved books from childhood inspire benevolent acts later in life? What most resonated with you about Farrah’s answers?