Writer of the Month
June – EMBA
To celebrate this year’s fantastic shortlist, we’ll be featuring the East Midland’s Book Award authors in the countdown to the award ceremony on the 20th June, where the winning author will receive a ?1000 prize.
Photo by Dan Sinclair
Jon McGregor is the author of the critically acclaimed If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, So Many Ways to Begin and Even the Dogs. He is the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Betty Trask Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award, and has been twice longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He was runner-up for the BBC National Short Story Award in both 2010 and 2011, with If It Keeps on Raining and Wires respectively. He was born in Bermuda in 1976. He grew up in Norfolk and now lives in Nottingham.
Jon McGregor’s This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You has been shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award 2013.
Writing East Midlands caught up with Jon to talk about his writing:
Congratulations on being shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award 2013. How do you feel?
I’m delighted, of course. It’s a great shortlist, and an honour to be a part of it. And perhaps it means that little bit more with the book being set in Lincolnshire. Having missed out on the chance to meet my fellow shortlistees at the announcement back in March, I’m looking forward to catching up with them on the big night itself.
Could you tell us a bit about This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You?
It’s a collection of stories, which are all set in towns and villages in the Lincolnshire fens. Some of the stories are directly influenced by the landscape and atmosphere – exposed, isolated, eerie, discombobulating – while others are only very loosely associated. But I wanted the reader to feel that the stories are all held together by taking place in the same landscape; within sight of each other, but out of reach. I think some of the stories are funny; other people seem to think they’re sad.
Being a writer based in the East Midlands, how do you feel about the opportunities on offer in the region?
This is a great place to be based as a writer. On the one hand, it’s perfectly possible to hide in your bunker and get on with your writing; on the other hand, if you need some writerly conversation, or some professional support, those colleagues and potential resources are there. Nottingham Writers’ Studio, which offers a professional resource and network to its members, is a great example. (Full disclosure: I’m the current patron of NWS, so am possibly biased.) And of course Writing East Midlands has been a great step forward for the region – I’ve benefitted from help and advice from WEM at times, and have been able to offer some input in return.
What advice would you give to emerging writers?
Read more. This is what I always say. Read more widely, more deeply. Study the writers whose work first made you want to write, and the writers you’ve only just heard of or think you don’t even like. Be more influenced. Learn how to read other people’s work critically, so you can do the same to your own.
Can you tell us about your writing process? What do you find to be the most exciting part, and why?
I don’t know that there is a process, as such. It’s all a bit of a mess until it’s done, and then I have to make up a story about how I got there. I have a work routine – go to the desk, make coffee, stay at the desk all day, make sure the desk doesn’t have an internet connection – but the actual process of putting a piece of writing together is a bit of a shambles. The most exciting part is the editing. That’s the stage which has the most clarity; here’s a problem, and here I am solving it. I know It’s not exactly firefighting, but we all get our kicks in different ways.
As you are an East Midlands author I wondered if the region affects your writing, perhaps by giving it a ‘sense of place,’ or a particular voice or identity, in any way. Or is this not a great factor in your writing?
To be honest, I’m not at all sure it does. I think I arrived in Nottingham too late to ever feel a strong pull of identification. There’s something about the place you spend your childhood and adolescence which shapes your brain in a very powerful way; and that shaping isn’t replicated when you come to a place in your twenties or thirties, I don’t think.
I’ve always been interested in achieving a sense of place in my writing, but those places have been varied; and I’ve always approached them as an outsider. In particular, this collection of stories, which superficially has the strongest regional indentification – right down to assigning place names to each story – is actually about a fictional landscape; the landscape I imagine as an outsider passing through Lincolnshire. It’s an invention, an exoticisation, and not an attempt to represent the place from the inside.
Who, if anyone, has had the biggest influence on your writing and why?
I’m not at all sure I could name anyone as ‘the biggest’. For this book, I was probably inspired by people like Lydia Davis, Donald Barthelme and George Saunders to really tinker with the idea of what a short story can be. For my last book (Even the Dogs) I went out of my way to absorb the influence of writers like James Kelman and William Faulkner (writers who are not like each other at all). And at the start of my career – in fact, the very first time I thought about writing ‘a story’ – it was Douglas Coupland.
What are you working on at the moment? What are you hoping for next in your writing career?
I’m working on a novel. I’m hoping to finish, and I’m hoping it will be better than the last thing I wrote.
The East Midlands Book Award winner will be announced at the Award Ceremony at Barnsdale Lodge on the 20th June as part of Oakham Festival. You can download the full festival brochure here.
Interested in reviewing the EMBA 2013 shortlist? with the opportunity to have your review published on the Writing East Midlands website?
All reviewers will be entered in to a prize draw to receive two tickets to attend the prestigious award ceremony at Barnsdale Lodge in Oakham on 20 June and win the full set of shortlisted books. Find out more here.