Lionel Shriver is sick of being asked about her 'man's name'. She is also sick of being painted into a corner as a 'woman writer'. "Journalists ask me all the time about what I eat, what kind of furniture I have, how I shop, what I wear. Honestly, nobody asks Ian McEwen about his diet," she says.
"With women writers there is a nosiness about where the idea is from. With men it's just assumed that they come with up with ideas, that's their job. They are accorded a little bit of privacy and I'm starting to envy them."
American-born London-based Shriver is full of sharp, sardonic sentences. Her seventh Orange Prize-winning novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, was published in 2005 and was released as a film last year, even as it began its journey as a much-rejected manuscript. The novel deals with a high school shoot-out and, in an Oedipal back-flip, the maternal ambivalence of a mother towards her son, the boy who carries out the massacre.
"A lot of mothers have been grateful to see their experience portrayed in a more realistic fashion. So it's not a book about a son turning into a killer but the other frustrations of raising a child," says Shriver. After a long pause she adds, "The fact that it can become very boring."
Shriver does not have children herself. But by navigating the hazardous zone of a mother stepping away from the unrequited love of her child, the book was "breaking the last taboo". And imagining - rather than experiencing - motherhood was quite liberating. "It was an advantage," said Shriver. "I would have felt constrained if I had had a real son. I would have had to worry what he would think when he grew up and read it."
As for her name, she changed it when she was 15 on a whim. "I was a tomboy. I chose a man's name and I kept it. "Why Lionel? I was capricious. I grabbed it out of the air. I've come to quite like it and I think it suits me."