Norwich author Jon McGregor talks about his latest book
PUBLISHED: 10:15 25 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:41 08 October 2018
Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2017
Author Jon McGregor is among the writers taking to the stage for Norfolk and Norwich Festival’s City of Literature Weekend.
Andrew Burton, from Writers’ Centre Norwich, talks to him about his latest book, Reservoir 13.
Jon McGregor, who grew up in Norwich, burst onto the international literary scene in 2002 at the age of just 26 with If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things which went on to be Booker Prize long-listed and win the Betty Trask Prize and a Somerset Maugham award.
He won the prestigious International Dublin Literary Prize in 2012 for his third novel Even the Dogs and has established himself as one of the UK’s most innovative and fearlessly inventive writers.
His latest novel Reservoir 13 was published by Harper Collins this year and on Saturday he will be taking part in an event for the City of Literature strand of this year’s Norfolk & Norwich Festival.
Andrew Burton: Where did the idea for Reservoir 13 come from?
Jon McGregor: The first starting point for me was the image with which the book more or less opens - an aerial shot of a line of villagers, spread out across a hillside, searching for clues to a child’s disappearance. It’s an image I’ve seen on the news, more than once, and I’ve always been struck by what it might be like to be one of those searchers; and by the way that everyday life would inevitably intrude after a few hours. I started from there and kept building away from it, letting everyday life intrude.
AB: When If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things was Booker Prize long-listed and won the Betty Trask Prize and a Somerset Maugham award, what impact did that have on you at the time, and what have been the longer term effects on your development as a writer?
JM: That had a great impact - it was of course a tremendously affirming way to start a career, but was also a really solid foundation to build on. It gave me breathing space to develop as a writer and, although I felt weirdly self-conscious while working on my second novel, probably meant I was under less pressure than I would have been if my first novel had sunk without trace.
AB: What is your writing routine?
JM: There really isn’t a routine. My working pattern varies from day to day, project to project, and is subject to all kinds of interruptions and distractions. But in some shape or another I spend some hours a day at a desk. I make a lot of notes, I keep a lot of drafts, I try and develop some momentum.
AB: What do you consider to be the writer’s chief role in society?
JM: The same as anyone else’s role in society: do the thing you can do well, learn how to do it better, be generous with your time, try not to be a dick.
AB: What writers have most influenced you, and why?
JM: George Saunders, Alice Munro, Lydia Davis, Alice Oswald, Tom Drury, John McGahern, W.G. Sebald; many more besides; by writing great work that made me think about writing differently and made me want to do better, try harder.
AB: You are a keen supporter of Writers’ Centre Norwich, supported the bid for Norwich to become England’s first UNESCO City of Literature and are also supporting the opening of the National Centre for Writing at Dragon Hall Norwich which is due to open in June 2018. Why are these things important to you?
JM: Firstly because Norwich is where I grew up, and a city that seems to get better every time I come back. Secondly because every time I’ve participated in anything organised by WCN it’s been a model of professionalism and innovation and generally a cracking example to the literary sector; their plans for Dragon Hall, and for the National Centre for Writing, are exciting and ambitious, and I know the team has what they need to pull it off. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.
AB: Many people feel they have a book inside them but only a small proportion get around to writing it. What advice would you offer to anyone keen to write but not sure how to start?
JM: Read more, write more. Sorry, but that’s just about it.
AB: What are the most important lessons your life in writing has taught you?
JM: To read more, and write more.
AB: What are you working on right now?
JM: A series of fifteen short stories - a prequel to Reservoir 13, called The Reservoir Tapes - to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in the autumn.
AB: Anything else you’d like to add?
JM: Have a little scrimmage; never mind the danger.
Tickets to see Jon McGregor discussing Reservoir 13 on Saturday at 6pm cost £8. To book, call 01603 766400 or visit www.nnfestival.org.uk
N.B. If you have a smart phone or tablet device, bring it along to the event fully-charged.
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