The actress, tech entrepreneur and debut novelist opens up about existential dread, struggling to stay vegan and the joy of 'nothing' time.
At still only 30, actress Talulah Riley has had many lives already. Growing up an only child in Hemel Hempstead, she hit the big time with major movie roles in Pride & Prejudice (the 2005 Keira Knightley version), St Trinian’s and The Boat That Rocked. At 22 she ‘parked’ acting in favour of screen writing and has recently co-founded a tech start-up in Silicon Valley, where she lives. If that weren’t enough, her first novel Acts of Love is published today. In among all of this she spent eight years as a stepmother to the five children of PayPal founder Elon Musk, who she is now divorcing for the second time. The novel, incidentally, is about an English girl pursued by a tech billionaire, although it's not autobiographical, of course! But where on earth did she find the time? We caught up with her to find out how she does it.
GTG: You’ve written your first novel. How did you do it alongside your day job(s)?
TR: I wrote the novel as a hobby over the course of about three years. I would write a bit and then put it away and work on it as and when I felt like it or had time. I didn't let it become a stressful thing or pressure myself to do it - I just worked on it when I wanted to. I wrote the first eight chapters and then didn't touch it for a whole year before I finished the final, ninth chapter.
GTG: Which writers inspired you and why?
TR: I love Daphne du Maurier for her ability to create a vivid sense of place and for building tension. Eva Rice is probably my favourite living author because her voice just sounds so cosy and familiar to me and she tells exactly the kind of stories I love to read. Aldous Huxley for being good at predicting the future and George Orwell for similar reasons. Most of my favourite authors are female: Virginia Woolf, Ayn Rand, Margaret Mitchell, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte...
GTG: You’re in a very modern tech industry, yet your literary influences are all from another era… how come?
TR: There's something fascinating about the fact that although we now have all this incredible technology at our disposal, the human emotional landscape hasn't actually changed much over hundreds of years: you can read Chaucer and recognise those characters exactly - they're less alien than they should be.
GTG: Your heroine has a lot to learn about herself and the way she treats men – what lessons have you learned about love and men?
TR: The older I get the more I love; love isn't just limited to one's experience of a romantic relationship, it's much broader than that. Love for friends and family has equal weight and importance. It's fantastic to be able to love and care for so many people. When I was younger I thought it was just about pair bonding!
GTG: Tell us about your day job as co-founder of a tech start-up.
TR: Forge is a web platform and mobile app that, at scale, should give hourly employees the freedom to pick their own shifts across as many different work locations as they would like. At the moment in the US, hourly workers have their schedules dictated to them by a manager, and they often have to work different hours every week, which makes it hard to schedule things like childcare, or get a second job. Forge is hoping to fix that. The idea was Stacey Ferreira's. She is my co-founder and the CEO of Forge. She got the idea after publishing a book (2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age Barriers and Changing the World, £17.98) and realising that a big concern for millennials is flexibility of schedule.
GTG: How healthy is your workplace?
TR: We are a team of nine right now. We all chose to get standing desks in the office, as a nod to health and wellness. We're also a dog-friendly office, which in my eyes is the biggest boon to wellbeing. If I'm writing, I like to feel extremely comfortable and non-constricted, so I'll often write in a very soft bathrobe - this is when I write from home, of course, and not the public library.
GTG: What tech helps you get on in your life?
TR: This is really bad, but I got into the habit of using Postmates [the US shop/restaurant delivery service] too often.
GTG: Do you have tech-free times or are you always online?
TR: Also bad I'm afraid I'm basically always online.
GTG: What do you do to unwind?
TR: I like to read, watch movies, go for a walk, bake a cake. Recently have been bowling quite a bit, and it's really fun! I also like just complete ‘nothing’ time to just lie around and think.
GTG: What’s your skincare and makeup routine?
TR: How diligent I am with my cleansing depends on how sleepy I am at the end of the night. Unfortunately, I'm usually really sleepy and I just brush my teeth and wash my face. But I'll have stretches where I'll put on three different kinds of serums and a super-intense eye cream etc and feel much better about myself. I like Eminence Organic Skin Care because the products smell nice.
GTG: Are you good with healthy eating?
TR: My diet is atrocious at the moment; although it's something I think about a lot and have grand plans for. I think that ethically a vegan diet is the most admirable, although I'm sorry to say I struggle to stay vegan for long. I keep re-trying and re-trying, and now all my friends make fun of me and do a countdown for how long I'll last.
I don't take supplements. I don't exercise in a regimented way, but I have two dogs and walk a lot. I've never drunk alcohol ... I'd say one of my biggest vices is procrastination.
GTG: Your mother hasn’t been able to read your book herself…
TR: She was blinded in her left eye in her early twenties from an operation that went wrong, and then has gradually been losing the sight in her right eye. She was registered blind a couple of years ago. My father read my novel out loud to her (which makes me shudder to think of, as there are embarrassing romance bits in it). Watching her cope with going blind has obviously been incredibly painful, but she's handled it with such grace and strength that it has also been an education. She's incredibly strong and fiercely independent and still does everything that she used to do - she paints great pictures! She's refused to let me or my father worry or get upset about it and she is as cheerful as ever.
GTG: Have you inherited her ability to pick yourself up?
TR: I'm generally a ridiculously optimistic person, however, I occasionally suffer from panic attacks , which are brought on by nothing in particular but will hit me out-of-the-blue. I'll have a kind of sickening existential dread and have to pull myself back from the brink of full-blown panic. This terrified me the first time it happened because I thought I was dying, but now I've learned to try to breathe through it and recognise the symptoms. My propensity is an annoyance now, more than anything, but I'm trying to be kind to myself and not see it as a sign of mental weakness or weirdness!
GTG: When do you feel most in harmony with yourself?
TR: When I'm doing something really absorbing like writing - or doing absolutely nothing such as wandering around the garden.
GTG: What counts as a really great day?
TR: My perfect day would be to go for a lovely sunny walk with my dogs, have four or five hours of uninterrupted writing/thinking time and have a really delicious dinner with friends and family where we all laugh a lot and listen to good music.
Acts of Love by Talulah Riley is published 11th August 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton priced £12.99
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