Interview: Esther Freud, daughter of Lucien Freud, on her latest novel Mr Mac and Me
The author's latest work takes inspiration from Charles Rennie Mackintosh
‘I don’t think I can have a cogent thought without it coming out through my fingers,’ jokes Esther Freud, wrapping said fingers around a cup of herbal tea. The author is in a tent at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, explaining her borderline compulsive desire to create.
‘I always knew I wanted a life where I was making something. It could have been sewing or farming, the important bit was to make something with my hands. Writing is just what I knew. Sometimes I know what I’m saying only when I write it down. So it makes sense to make a book out of all the things that interest me.’
So when Freud heard that the artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh once spent a year in the Suffolk village she now lives in, got wrapped up in local rumours, and was eventually wrongly imprisoned for being a German spy, naturally, it blossomed into a novel.
‘I knew he’d spent time there [in Walberswick] - the gift shop is full of postcards by him and his wife Margaret Macdonald. But when I heard he briefly slept in my house, I had to do more research.’
After several trips to Glasgow’s School of Art, House for an Art Lover and ‘every possible building I could find that he was connected with’, Freud, whose previous novels include Hideous Kinky and Lucky Break became more fascinated by Mackintosh. Her eighth novel, Mr Mac and Me is ‘part sea story and part ghost story’, based around a fictional friendship she imagines between Mackintosh and a young boy Thomas, who loves watching the artist at work.
‘Watching someone’s artistic manner, in a mystified manner, I guess I do know that. I used to stand and watch dad [the artist Lucian Freud]. Watching in frustration as someone scrubs something out ferociously, or trashes stuff that looked perfectly OK to me – Mackintosh certainly shared that perfectionism.’
Esther Freud’s Mr Mac and Me is out now from Bloomsbury.