Q&A


 

First of all, you can find questions that other people have formulated into interviews by clicking through to any of the following links below. You can also find videos of Jon talking about his books, plus TV reviews and other snippets here.

Jon considers writing styles and which British writers he thinks are breaking new ground at the moment in a Q&A with We Love This Book. You can read the interview here.

You can hear Jon discussing the delights of the short story with other writers and Aminatta Forma for the BBC’s Open Book programme, here.

Jon answers questions from Anna Sexton at Hotpress about what made him return to his first love, and more, here.

Here’s where you can catch an interview with BBC Radio Scotland’s The Book Cafe on BBC iPlayer to hear Jon talking about “the knack of coming up with a great title and whether it’s a risk to follow three critically-acclaimed novels with a short story collection.”

A video interview with Commonwealth Writers is here.

If you’d like to hear more from Jon on writing (and more) in his own words, take a look at On learning to read, his blog for the University of Nottingham.

Caroline Edwards interviewed Jon McGregor, and Contemporary Literature published it. You can read the interview through Project MUSE if you have institutional access, or in The New Statesman, if not. Here’s a sample:

Is there a place for politics in fiction?
From a creative point of view it’s very dangerous to set out with a political agenda because you almost inevitably bend the characters to your own perspective, rather than letting the story take priority. Which doesn’t mean I think fiction should be a politics-free zone. In Even the Dogs I wanted to put the story first and let the politics emerge naturally–there’s plenty in the book for the reader to think “that sucks, that’s not right…”

Bookslam 23 includes an interview with Jon. This is a downloadable .mp3 podcast.

The Scotsman interviewed Jon:

“I assumed there would be a certain section of people who liked the first book, and for the same reasons enjoyed the second book, and won’t like this one. But in a way it was very liberating.”

An interview with Blogcritics Books is here. Here’s a snippet:

In the writing that you’re doing, what would you say are your main concerns?

Life and the choices people make. Love and loss. The small details which make a big picture. The gaps between what people say to one another.

The Torontoist interviews Jon here, with questions like:

Your first two novels were nominated for the Man Booker Prize. How have those nominations impacted your writing life? Do you find the attention afforded by the shortlist nomination distracting or is it a relief to be out in the world in such a visible way after the seclusion of writing a novel?

That first long-listing, for If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, transformed my writing life. It led to a stack of reviews which the book wouldn’t otherwise have got; it started the ball rolling sales-wise; it resulted in a series of writing opportunities which wouldn’t have otherwise come my way. It meant, effectively, that I was able to start writing full-time. It was also a whole lot of excitement and fun, for a few weeks. At the time, I did also find the attention distracting and disorientating, and completely non-conducive to the act of writing. But I’ve since learnt–or decided–to just be straightforward about putting writing on hold for a couple of months around publication, and enjoy the foolish pleasures of being A Writer before climbing back down into the bunker and actually getting on with the work.

An older interview with the Guardian is here.

A video interview, the Writers & Artists Yearbook Interview, is here.

The Dovegrey Reader interviewed Jon, and asked “Who should we read as a matter of urgency, who should we read for pure pleasure and who is writing now who we mustn’t overlook?”, but you’ll have to click over and read the interview to find out what Jon said.

TimeOut London talked to Jon and wrote about it here.

Nottingham’s very own LeftLion interviewed Jon here, and you can find out just what Jon thinks of people who don’t like Amélie just a few questions into the interview.

ShortFirePress talked to Jon about, among other things, where he finds inspiration. In part, as you’ll find out, these places include “[overheard] mobile phone conversations…public transport, pubs and cafes, small shops where regulars get chatting to the shopkeeper”. Click over to read the rest.

Writer Laura Hird interviewed Jon for the New Review and asked what advice he’d give to aspiring young (and not so young) novelists. Jon’s answer includes not taking any work that uses up your thinking-energy; you can find out the rest by clicking on the link above.

Jen Campbell interviewed Jon about short stories, novels, and the difference in writing them, among other things. Jon’s response in part was,

“Short story writing is writing. Novel writing is writing. Some stories naturally deserve one form or the other. The appeal of short stories to me, both as writer and reader, is that the short story is almost inevitably read in a single sitting; this means that it can be read more attentively, and that subtle affects of connection and resonance and omission can be more effective. It also means that a short-story can be re-read and studied much more readily. All of which creates a much more powerful relationship between the writer and reader, and a more intense experience (at best).”

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These are some of the questions that some of the people have asked Jon McGregor some of the time; eventually, he hopes, it will come to form all of the questions all of the people have asked him all of the time and he will never need to do another interview. You can search the questions using the searchbox in the top right of the screen.

Do you prefer short stories or novels?

Error 424 – This question invalid. It’s like asking whether someone prefers whisky or beer: they’re made differently, they have different effects, they suit different occasions. Although, as my choice of simile perhaps suggests, it could be said that a short story is more distilled, stronger, more suitable for sipping and savouring and talking about. Whereas a novel is there to be quaffed heartily…. this metaphor has run its course.
I enjoy working on short stories because they are more concentrated, and because it’s easier to see your mistakes (and harder to get away with them), and because you know that the reader is going to take in the story in one go. I enjoy reading stories for the same reason, and because they are so much easier to re-read and study.
I enjoy novels – writing and reading them – because sometimes it’s good to really get stuck into something which trails endless possibilities and can engage a reader over a particular period of their life.

Do you write poetry?

I used to. When I was fourteen. It was terrible, obviously. One day, I might do so again. But I’ve got other things to do right now. And there are so many excellent poets at work already. See Alice Oswald, Charles Simic, Matthew Welton, Adam Zagajewski, Kathleen Jamie… and many many more.

Where is If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things set?

In an unspecified town in northern England. Which is not all that dissimilar to Bradford, which inspired the book, but which could easily be Leeds or Manchester or Halifax or Huddersfield or Salford or any of those mill-dominated towns across the Pennine belt. It’s not really Nottingham, although reading it now I guess it could be. It’s definitely not London, and I’m regularly disappointed by people who assume it is.

Why is there such a change in style from If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things to So Many Ways To Begin?

Because of the subject matter, basically. If Nobody Speaks.. was very close-focus, very interested in the sensory details of daily life, very keen to bring out the wonder of the everyday: and so by necessity the language was deliberately heightened and evocative of the things it was trying to describe. But So Many Ways.. has a much longer view, and follows a much smaller cast of characters through a more elaborated narrative. There are stories to tell, and not all of them are wonderful. So it seemed only natural that the language would be plainer, or more restrained, and that there would be more internal narrative, and more implication, and fewer whizz-bangs. (I also felt that If Nobody Speaks.. was a little over-cooked in places, although that’s a matter for personal taste, I suppose.)

Where do you get your ideas from?

These days, mostly from other people’s mobile phone conversations.  In the old days, it was from overheard conversations on buses and trains and in cafes.  Also, from newspapers, films, other books, people I know, people I would like to know, people I’m glad I don’t know, and as a very last resort from my actual imagination.  For a time, I would also get ideas from the people who gave me lifts when I was hitch-hiking – drivers can be astonishingly confessional when they’re bored and they know they’re never going to see you again.  But I stopped hitch-hiking in my mid-twenties, after the White Van Incident.

What do you write with?

My favourite pen is the Muji 5mm.  I type on an Olivetti Lettera 22, or an Olivetti M3.  I rearrange the words on an Apple iBook G4, or an ASUS Eee PC.  I have no idea why these things matter.  I use notebooks, scrap paper, the backs of old manuscripts, envelopes, the blank pages at the back of books I’m reading, typing paper, cereal boxes, and the palms of my hands.  I have no idea why this matters either.  I think the fetishisation of process is both an exercise in procrastination (for the maker) and a refusal to engage with the finished work (for the audience).  But what do I know?

What do you do all day?

I sit at my desk.  I think, I write, I cross out, I crumple up and start again, I make notes, I write shopping lists.  I make tea, and coffee, and think about what to have for lunch.  I look out of the window, and I sit down again.  I try to write something.  (See also ‘What do you write with’?)

Why don’t you use “speech marks”?

I’m not sure.  I’ve just not been able to make them work, so far.  It’s partly that in my writing I’m attempting to put a voice in the reader’s head, and that my punctuation is geared towards that, and that I’ve found “speech marks” tend to interrupt the flow I’m looking for.  It’s also partly that the dialogue in my stories is limited, and tends to appear at a halfway point between reported and direct speech, which is difficult to punctuate using “speech marks”.  I’ve got nothing against using them, I just haven’t found it useful to do so myself, yet.

What was the ‘White Van Incident’?

See pp232-233 of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. It was more or less like that, except that in addition to the ‘unexpectedly being driven along bumpy tracks towards who knows what kind of mysterious encampment in the woods’ and the ‘braking sharply so that I was thrown from one end of the van to the other’ elements of the incident, there was also ‘having the door held shut to keep me trapped inside’ as a kind of coda to the whole thing.

What writers have influenced you?

The question of influence is a perilous one: it’s difficult to answer without seeming to make the claim that my writing can be compared to or considered in the same breath as these writers. So instead, here is a list, in no particular order, of writers I like, enjoy, admire, or am confounded by and jealous of:
Alice Munro, John McGahern, Jonathan Buckley, Richard Brautigan, William Maxwell, Alice Oswald, Charles Simic, AL Kennedy, Don DeLillo, George Saunders, David Foster Wallace, Nell Freudenberger, Wendell Stevenson, Raymond Carver…

What else has inspired you, besides books?

The short answer would be music, films, and life, probably in that order. More specific examples would include:
the music and especially the lyrics of Pulp, also Will Oldham in his many aliases, the Orbit in Morley c1996,the photography of Martin Parr, the films of Richard Linklater, those nights at the Beehive in Bradford, the loud wordless music of Montreal (mostly via Godspeed You! Black Emperor), the Tindersticks, the anti-landscape of the Fens…