PW: You seem to have made a huge stylistic leap since the '90s, when you were writing hit songs for the band Sleeper and Bob Dylan was your main influence. Now you've written a disciplined novel [The Perfect Play] with all the hallmarks of formal craft. How did you get from music to novels?
Louise Wener: My songs were very character-driven, and I always longed to write more. I'd find myself writing a song and always having too many verses and a surplus of lyrics. So when the band broke up, it was natural to sit down and start to write a novel, and I found it the most satisfying and thrilling thing.
PW: Is it similar to the experience of recording?
LW: Yes. I loved recording because you turn up at the studio [with] a blank tape, and at the end of the day you have something new that you've just created out of nothing. Writing has that same feeling. I can lose myself for the whole day in it.
PW: Did you learn poker in order to serve your story, or did the story come out of adventures you had as a poker player?
LW: I learned poker when I decided to write the book. Growing up I loved films like Cool Hand Luke and Cincinnati Kid—[movies that featured] the outsider having to make a quick buck. My older brother plays a little, and I thought it would be simple to learn, but it's actually enormously complex. I fell in love with it. It's a gorgeous, clever, fascinating game, and I've wasted a lot of money on it!
PW: Your London descriptions are vivid, but it's Las Vegas that conveys the sharpest sense of place. Have you spent much time there—in a smashing red dress like Audrey's?
LW: Well, not in the long red dress; it was 104 degrees! I've been there three or four times and it's the most amazing, appalling place, the most blatantly greedy place on the planet. It's vivid because people's desires are so near to the surface in that environment. I like to put my characters in intense situations, to have them challenged emotionally.
PW: Audrey's relationship with her father is harrowing. Was your childhood easier?
LW: Yes. My father was around all through my childhood, but he died 10 years ago, and there's a sense in which I didn't get to know him well enough in adulthood. Audrey's loss reflects that. As a consequence of not growing up with her dad, Audrey feels her life is rootless and out of control. Despite having had a relatively stable upbringing, that feeling is certainly something I can relate to in periods of my own life.
PW: In Great Britain you were a megastar in the '90s, but even though you toured with Elvis Costello here, your name doesn't resonate here the way it does there. Will that affect your American readership?
LW: In some ways, I think it's better to be new. Being in a successful band can mean that you're battling people's preconceptions. I'm just really thrilled to have the book published in America with this slightly kooky character who doesn't conform to the usual feminine stereotypes.
PW: Was it your idea or your publisher's to change the British title, The Big Blind, to The Perfect Play?
LW: It was suggested to me, and I thought it made total sense. The phrase "the big blind" isn't all that familiar to people who don't play poker.
PW: Is there a novelist who's important to you as a fiction writer the way Dylan was to you as a lyricist?
LW: I haven't found that person, although I like Tom Wolfe, Nick Hornby and Anne Tyler. I read a lot now, but in some ways I still feel like a novice. The films I saw growing up and the songs I loved were probably more of a direct influence on me.