Interview with Rose McGinty
At the end of May I had the pleasure of meeting with my friend, the wonderful Rose McGinty, author of Electric Souk. Over lunch and with much laughter, we discussed her book and all things about writing.
Hi Rose and thank you for allowing me to interview you here. Like me, you have completed the Faber Academy's 'Writing a Novel' course. For those who do not know you, tell us a little about yourself.
Hi Ann, I live in Kent, and work in east London for the NHS. As well as writing I really enjoy painting; I paint in oils. I also very much enjoy travelling, having travelled extensively.
Where's the favourite place you've travelled to?
Well, home is Ireland, but beyond Ireland I love Italy and I love Borneo. It's all about clouds, I think. In Ireland you get the most incredible, scudding clouds, turning the lakes and mountains every shade of purple. In Italy, I seem always to be there, in Venice, or Naples or Como, when there's thick fog and dark low skies, a haunting atmosphere. And Borneo, the clouds govern the day. In the morning, they are light candy floss pink as the sky becomes blue, signalling the intense heat of the day, but by late afternoon they are rolling off Mount Kota Kinabalu, bringing downpours of refreshing rain. I love weather, the moods of the gods, which was why spending a year in the desert without a drop of rain was so intensely alien to me.
What was your inspiration for Electric Souk?
I spent some time living in the Middle East and while I was there I kept detailed journals. I had a magical time there but also a very brutal time, so I kept the journals as a way of trying to make sense of what was happening to me. When I came home, people said that I should really try and get the journals published, but it seemed too personal and too raw. So I started to write a story that was burning inside me, and drew on my experiences of the perfumes, sights and sounds of the Middle East.
Is Electric Souk autobiographical?
Not really. There are little snippets here and there, scenes every now and again. Certainly the essence of the desert is very much my own experience. The novel is set during the Arab Spring, and I was not in the Middle East then, although I was still there as it's early tremors started to be felt.
I've read Electric Souk and it was very evocative of time and place. The smells, sounds are all brought to life. It was quite magical to read.
Have you always wanted to write?
I have, and funnily enough I only realised the other day that one of the first 2 memories that I have, when I was very small about four, was learning to write my name. At home with my mum at the dining table, I can still see that scene, how to write my letters.
So you were quite young?
Yes, and all the way through school creative writing was my favourite subject. Every now and then I stumble across a box full of old ramblings, and realise that I've been writing for longer than I think I have!
Did you have anyone that influenced you to write, maybe a family or a teacher?
My grandmother always said that she went to see a fortune teller, who told her that she would become an author. My grandmother never did, but we were born on the same day and I do wonder whether some of that was passed to me.
Do you have a writing routine, and do you have a favourite place to write?
I am a binge writer because I work full time. I commute as well, so I tend to write at the weekend. I also write when I'm on holiday, and if I get odd moments, like waiting hours for a train, I try and write then. My favourite place to write is when I'm on holiday, because I can then write every single day and have a really good flow and a glass of wine to hand. But if not, I'll be sat at the window, overlooking the garden, usually doing battle with the cat and my laptop! I would say that is probably my favourite place.
The advice given to authors is to write every day, but that can be quite difficult to achieve.
I think that's fine if you're not working full time, or have a family to look after, and modern life also gets in the way. I really don't want to be bullied by that kind of advice as it can make you feel very guilty for not writing. Although I may actually not be writing every day, I'm thinking about my story, about my characters. I'll be jotting down notes, and trying out pieces of dialogue in my head. So that by the time I come to sit down at the weekend, I'm ready to go, to write at a pace, because I've spent the week thinking it all through.
I can relate to that. Thinking constructively about writing is just as important as the putting down of words.
I would love to write every day, but I relish the experience more if time is precious, and you are juggling everything else.
Do you have any writing tips?
For a long time I wrote by myself, tucked away in my garden, but what I found when I went to Faber Academy was a writing community around me. That has been the biggest revolution to my writing because it is a safe space to share your thinking. To share the pieces that you know are not going right, that you can't put your finger on. Always I get brilliant feedback from my writing group and immense support, fresh ideas. I always come away motivated to write and new ideas. Usually we have two or three glasses of wine as well!
Do you carry a notebook around with you?
I carry a notebook, or record messages to myself on my phone. Other tips? Hmm, the biggest tip is to write the story that you want to write. That was what Richard Skinner (writer and director of the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course) drilled into us. Don't try to work out what the market might want. Or write in a style or a story that you're not passionate about, because it's a long, hard and at times quite a lonely, soul destroying process. So you've absolutely got to be passionate about the story you want to write.
It's really about finding your voice as well, isn't it? Like anything in life, you can only be yourself.
Yes, absolutely. Yes, and there's lots about modern life and technology that gets in the way of being you. Sometimes I feel I will soon need a password just to be me and have my own voice. Oh, and another tip, always back up everything. I was about two-thirds the way through my manuscript when my laptop decide to refuse to spell check or save my work any further. So technology is not always reliable, I constantly back up everything I do.
Yes, I do it after every page, every paragraph sometimes, as I'm scared of losing work. Even if you can sort of remember what you've written, it's not exactly the same, especially if it was a key piece of prose.
You can never get back into the moment again. Unlike writing a letter or a Report, getting back into that absolute moment, your character's shoes, it's never quite the same as before.
Do you have any favourite books?
I think my all time favourite is Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. I don't think there are two characters that are more memorable than Heathcliffe and Cathy. Emily Bronte writes with such rawness and conveys such depth and truth of emotion. There's such an intense honesty in how she writes. I think I'm obsessed with Wuthering Heights as I'm waiting for my dark Heathcliff to return. I'm enjoying more recently, and since I've become a writer and meeting so many other writers, a wider range of genre. Novels that I've really been enjoying I would say are, Eleanor Ferrante. She writes such sweeping, epic, societal novels, intensity within the family and relationships and friendships. I've also been enjoying reading the latest generation of great Irish writers like Kevin Barry, Paul McVeigh, Eimear McBride, and Lucy Caldwell.
I've just discovered Paul McVeigh via a Word Factory event in London recently, and have started to read his The Good Son. I feel apologetic for not finding his work sooner, I don't know why he hasn't been on my radar before now! So, what next for you?
I'm about five thousand words into my second novel that is set in a hospital. Again it's going to be a dark, psychological novel. It's taking me into some gothic hospital corridors! I'm also continuing to write short stories and have one called The nightingale's Song appearing in Stories for Homes this autumn in aid of Shelter.
Well done you! It's been lovely talking to you Rose and finding out more about you and your writing. I've discovered we have a lot in common in our approach to writing. Congratulations again for your success with Electric Souk, and I look forward to reading more of your work.
Thank you Ann.
Electric Souk is published by Urbane Publications and can be found online at Amazon and in Waterstone bookstores.
Find Rose on twitter @rosemcginty