'Maguire exerts a compelling clarity of purpose... Her writing, at its best, is exquisitely humane, shockingly beautiful, and utterly essential.' The Scotsman
'Maguire is a deft, unfussy writer with a finely-tuned instinct for economy and balance. She sets every detail to work and has the knack of ending with a light twist that is never awkwardly contrived. Tart with humour and irony, her stories float off the page precisely because they are underpinned by admirable craft; as in the art of typography, this proclaims itself through its invisibility.' The Sunday Herald
Q: You’ve edited 4 anthologies; how did that happen, and which has been the most interesting?
A: In 1992 I was introduced to Marion Sinclair, the editor at Polygon (then part of Edinburgh University Press) who happened to be looking for someone to help select material for Scottish Love Stories, so my first co-editing work was an apprenticeship – despite my name on the cover, she did all the difficult stuff. Hoots was the first notion I came up with, and I invited the BBC radio drama producer I’d most often worked with on my comic stories, David Jackson-Young, to co-edit. As an avid reader of crime fiction, Something Wicked was my next thought, and I persuaded a fellow enthusiast of the dark side, Amanda Hargreaves, another radio producer, to co-edit; we both made calls to authors, chased permissions, doodled cover designs. Little Black Dress was rather different; the idea started as a proposal in 2002 to BBC Radio 4 for a mixed handful of themed stories (broadcast 2003). Then I realised it could expand into book form. The process of approaching writers, commissioning stories and illustrations, and editing the collection was extremely time-consuming, but it’s been the most rewarding project (so far) due to frequent contact with and input from the other writers involved. You can find out more about LBD in my article in the Sunday Times and my essay on dressing up.
Q: You’ve published 2 collections of your own stories - which one(s) do you like best?
A: Once I’ve written something I can’t see it very objectively for a while, and when it’s published I don’t want to look at it until I’ve forgotten what went into its construction. Both The Short Hello (2000) and Furthermore (2005) contain pieces of writing I now quite like again, but I don’t have favourites. Well, okay; because they’re widely different in tone, but both about reaching for the unattainable (a universal topic!), perhaps ‘The Day I Met Sean Connery’ (from The Short Hello), and ‘Mae West Optional’ (from Furthermore).
Q: Why did you start writing short stories?
A: Because they’re short; that is their beauty. Because they’re intense, satisfying to write and to read. I like to see how much I can show in how few words, while still giving the reader a solid enough series of events or emotional connections to take away and chew on later. Also because, for me, writing grew out of comedy performance, so establishing character and situation fast was already something I knew about and liked doing. I began by writing stories for radio, partly so that I could also read them (and earn two fees!) and partly because an actor’s life is one of frequent unemployment, so creating work for myself seemed like a sensible area to explore.
Q: When and where did you do stand-up comedy?
A: In the early to mid ‘80s, everywhere from The Gilded Balloon to the Traverse Theatre to The Comedy Store, and some pretty insalubrious venues in between; and later on television, STV & Granada. I didn’t tell jokes, it wasn’t traditional male-format stand-up. I created characters who related unlikely incidents. I’d start with a voice, a mannerism or two, and a very basic script, and improvise.
Q: What do you enjoy most and least about writing?
A: What I most enjoy is those moments of ‘flow’ - when it doesn’t occur to me that I’m hungry or tired or cold or getting a kink in my neck, or that there are other things waiting for attention (like bills and laundry and dental appointments). The parts I least enjoy are the hours spent keeping the writer-me alive and enabled (dealing with bills, laundry, dental appointments) and recovering from all those kinks in the neck.
Q: Do you like meeting your readers and appearing at public events?
A: Yes! I love doing readings. As a child, being read to was one of my greatest pleasures, and you can see pleasure in the faces of an adult audience when they’re truly engaged by a narrative. It’s gratifying to be able to share that rapport, rather in the same way that, years ago, in my comedy era, I’d see the audience forget it was a performance and become absorbed by the events being described, and it would push me to greater heights of inventiveness. On a more practical level, readings also give me a chance to hear any clunks in a piece of text.
Q: Do you teach writing? Do you think it can be taught?
A: I have tutored a bit, and may well do more. As to being taught - I think if you want to write, and have strong ideas and an instinct for language, a good tutor can be helpful, at the very least by taking you seriously enough to offer practical or technical advice and show you your strengths. After that it’s mainly down to application. If you really want to write, just do it; write every day, and read, as much and as widely as you can, and don’t expect to be published in a hurry or ever get rich.
Q: Where and how do you write?
A: On an iMac, in a small darkened room; or in bed, in a notebook with a pencil, in moments between sleeping and reading and thinking. Also on the bus, at the supermarket, while washing dishes, in the bath... Any time I appear to be doing nothing, or staring into space, that’s also writing.
Q: Did you always want to be a writer? What else did you want to be?
A: I growl at the use of phrases like ‘I want to be a writer’ - I suspect it means ‘I’d love to be photographed looking fascinatingly moody and attractive at the french-windows of my elegant study on the day after winning a literary prize, and then laugh self-deprecatingly as I discuss my daily van-loads of fan mail with an awe-struck interviewer.’ To paraphrase an author I admire a great deal: “I’m not A Writer. I’m someone who tells stories.” A useful perspective. As to my early ambitions, I’ve wanted to ‘be’ many things – including, for a while, personal stylist to David Bowie (during his Ziggy Stardust phase, of course) – but all the imaginary roles I cast myself in during my teens, twenties and even thirties were, I now deduce, less about doing the things themselves, more about looking for a place where ‘not fitting in’ would feel okay. That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but it makes sense to me.
Q: Which writers do you most admire?
A: The ones whose voices tell me all I need to know, not a word more or a word less. The ones whose ability and vision transport me beyond the consciousness that I am reading at all. Dozens of them; male, female, contemporary, classic, gone but not forgotten. Who are they? Find your own sources of inspiration!
Copyright @ Susie Maguire 2006