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Alice Sebold has been talking most of the morning and she's sick of it.

She sits in the Bellini Bar of the Hilton in a black shirt that matches her hair and sets off her porcelain-pale complexion, pins on a smile and waits for the questions.

"Do you get tired of being associated with rape and tragedy?"


Nor should she. Sebold's two books are centred around her own brutal rape in 1981. She was in her first year at university. Eighteen years and many drafts later, her first book came out. Titled Lucky, for the police who told her she was lucky not to have been brutalised further or killed, it is a masterful piece of work.

Unsentimental, graphic, yet restrained enough to keep you reading, it has some worthwhile messages. It also tells you a great deal about the strength and determination Sebold summoned up when she decided to take her rapist to court.

Three years later came The Lovely Bones, the story of a child who is raped and murdered and tells her part of the story from heaven. Slightly less harrowing, it has been on the best seller list, both here and in the US, almost since publication. Peter Jackson is planning a movie.

Books do not come easily for Sebold, now 41. She laughs drily at my shock when she explains how she threw away the 300-page draft of The Lovely Bones when she returned to it after writing Lucky. For her, starting again is the way it is.

It is about then that I notice there's a hot pink T-shirt with a shinier, pinker, bunny transfer, peering out from under her sober black top. She's wearing matching socks. This lady isn't just tough, she has attitude.

There are things she won't talk about. The novel she is working on is off-limits: "Talking about it solidifies it, makes it less malleable," she says.

Similarly, while she enjoyed meeting the Peter Jackson team en route to Auckland ("They were very nice"), she will not elaborate. And she certainly doesn't want any part in writing the movie. "I have no interest in it."

What does interest her is getting back to her first love, teaching. She spent 15 years working as an "adjunct [university] lecturer" on short-term contract. "I'd like to try and get a real job this time out."

She finds writing "sometimes good, sometimes isolated", while teaching students can feed her creativity.

In the meantime, after visiting Australia, it is back to Ojai, a small town on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Waiting will be husband Glen David Gold, whose first novel is also doing well, animals and a draft of her new novel. She'll get back to the routine: up at 4am or 5am, working through to afternoon, shunning distractions. "We don't have mail come to the house ... I hate the telephone [her roving mobile is just for calling her husband], I don't do any cleaning, my house is a pigsty ... "

I hope she doesn't need to throw that draft away and start again.

Alice Sebold

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