Zoe Pilger is Sarah and Julie in Swimming Pool

Swimming Pool
Swimming Pool

Zoe Pilger was born in London in 1984. She is an art critic for The Independent and currently researching a PhD on romantic love and sadomasochism in the work of French artist Sophie Calle. Her debut novel, Eat My Heart Out (Serpent’s Tail, £11.99), which started life as a short story, is a wild and wicked rampage through the psyche of a lost young woman as she looks for answers in London’s more outré offerings. Eithne Farry

In François Ozon’s 2003 French-British film Swimming Pool, Charlotte Rampling plays Sarah Morton, a famous crime writer, now middle-aged. She wears dark glasses, smokes, drinks whiskey alone in dingy London pubs. Her hair is cut marmishly short but she retains that Rampling look, those cheekbones, that staggering, dark sexual power.

Sarah lives with her elderly father in a dusty house full of books and heavy curtains. There is the suggestion of a long-term, painful affair with John, her smarmily elegant publisher, played by Charles Dance. It is John who suggests that she go and write in his empty holiday house in the south of France.

What follows is the most visually serene but murderous of stories about the creative process. Sarah is unexpectedly joined in the house by John’s 20-something daughter, Julie, played by the blonde, bronzed and crookedly beautiful Ludivine Sagnier. Sarah is the uptight English ‘spinster’; Julie is the lascivious French ‘slut’. Sarah binges on plain yoghurt with artificial sweetener, while Julie devours foie gras and charcuterie. Julie becomes Sarah’s muse; when Julie eventually commits a dreadful act of violence, she says that she did it for Sarah’s book. The message is clear: creativity requires sacrifice.

I first watched the film when I was at university; I have watched it at least 10 times since. I love it. While I was writing Eat My Heart Out, Sarah and Julie emerged in my imagination as complementary poles of a particularly female experience. In order to get the book done, I had to live like Sarah sans the whiskey: shutting myself away from the world and focusing all on the story.

But my novel’s heroine, Ann-Marie, is more like Julie: she is desperate for male attention, she plays the game. She is raw and intelligent and wounded. She will survive at all costs; she will do violence to survive. While Sarah and Julie are both classic feminine types, Ozon gives them a grace and depth that is not typical. They help each other; indeed, they need each other.

More information on Zoe Pilger can be found here.