Author Spotlight: Emma Forrest

In her new memoir, the British novelist and screenwriter remembers the psychiatrist who saved her life and the “Gypsy Husband” who broke her heart

Emma Forrest was a young journalist prodigy in the United Kingdom, penning stories for The Times and The Guardian as a teenager in the 1990s. But all was not well under the surface. She would write curse words on her skin under her school uniform and ride her bicycle to the Tate and cry at Millais’s painting, Ophelia. By the time Forrest was 22, she was living in New York and her eccentricities had turned to self-cutting and bulimia so severe she sometimes couldn’t leave her apartment. She finally stumbled, bleeding, into the office of a psychiatrist who treated her for years after a suicide attempt. “Dr. R” (as she calls him) died in 2008, and Forrest’s memoir, Your Voice in My Head (Other Press), is a beautifully-written eulogy for the doctor she credits with saving her life. The book also chronicles Forrest’s relationship with a movie star (whom she refers to as “Gypsy Husband,” but whose identity she will not confirm). Forrest, who currently lives in L.A., told us that the process of writing her memoir in her Laurel Canyon hideaway helped her to heal.

“In writing this, I was literally closing a book on an era, and on certain people and on certain behavior patterns. So I’m now going back and talking about things that, just by putting them to page and trapping them within the spine of the book, [got] wiped out in a way that has been very good for me. 

“I’ve been incredibly productive in L.A. because not only do I not know how to drive, but I rented my home before I moved here without ever looking at it, and I didn’t understand that living at the top of Laurel Canyon would not be a smart thing for someone who doesn’t know how to drive. I was completely trapped, and that was why it was such an unbelievably productive year–I couldn’t really go anywhere. Also, Laurel Canyon is fairyland, and I felt like I was under a spell. There’s dark energy up there with the wacky lighting, and I found that quite useful with this moody piece. I think I was in the right place because if I had still been in New York, it really is the city that never sleeps, and there always would have been someone to talk to, there would have been somewhere to go. I really was trapped in this Laurel Canyon spell that was actually healthy for the writing process. It was very odd, I would look at my computer screen at the end of the day and I wouldn’t remember having written at all. It really did just appear up there.” 

Photograph by Seamus McGarvey