Author Interview: Emily Maguire

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Emily Maguire is an Australian author with award nominations and commendations for previous novels, she has also written non-fiction articles focusing on culture, religion, sex and literature that have been published in prestigious newspapers and magazines.

Her latest release is Fishing For Tigers and we were able to ask her some questions about her writing and the new book in this recent interview.

Welcome to Beauty and Lace Emily, thanks for talking to us.

What made you want to pursue a writing career?

I’ve always written, but for a long time it never occurred to me that writing could be an actual career. I started pursuing it seriously out of desperation, I think. I had endured years of truly awful waitressing and call centre jobs and just decided I had nothing to lose by taking the writing thing seriously.

Your books have featured relationships that are unusual, why did you choose to write about these pairings?

That’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t set out to write about unusual pairings, it’s just that I’m so interested in what connects people to each other. Why does this person fall so hard for that person and not the equally good-looking or funny or kind or whatever person standing right next to them? Why are these two people who seem to have little in common friends, while those two who have loads in common never really connected? So, Cal and Mischa in Fishing for Tigers appear to have very little in common but when you think about their personal histories of sex and violence and family and belonging it suddenly makes a whole lot of sense that they would find each other.

Fishing For Tigers is your latest release, can you tell us about the book?

Fishing for Tigers is the story of thirty-five-year-old Mischa, who has been living in Hanoi, Vietnam for the past six years after escaping from an abusive marriage. She’s managed to find contentment there. She has a low-pressure, but interesting job and a group of friends who are similarly placed in life: they’re all expats, living in Hanoi, enjoying the economic privilege and freedom from family and social responsibility that expat life gives them.
But then Cal – the 18 year old Vietnamese-Australian son of one of Mischa’s friends – comes to visit and the two start an affair. At first it’s just sex, but then Cal’s social conscience and his complicated history with Vietnam begin to chip away at Mischa. Cal has been raised by a mother and grandfather who fled Vietnam in terror. Their experiences – which they’ve barely spoken about to him – take on a new, distressing reality and Mischa, being involved with this boy, has to deal with that.


The book is set in Vietnam, what prompted you to base the story there?

In 2008, I went to Hanoi on a three month Asialink literature residency and I fell passionately in love with the place. I longed to stay there forever, but I knew I couldn’t, because of various responsibilities and ties back in Sydney. Setting a book there allowed me to re-visit often (literally and in my imagination).

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

In the first instance, Vietnam – it’s a country with such a rich history and such an exciting and fascinating present. But of course it’s also a country with which Australia has a complicated relationship. I wanted to write about the various ways in which Australians and Vietnamese have interacted over the previous sixty or so years and how the past continues to influence the present. I had a lot of false starts before the characters of Mischa and Cal emerged and I felt I had a way to look at all of these interconnected ideas of home and family and violence and nationality.

Are you working on anything new you can tell us about?

I’m working on several short pieces, a sketchy outline of a non-fiction book and a less sketchy beginning to a new novel. And, no, I can’t tell you much more than that about any of it!

Have you got a writing process you follow? Do you plot before you start to write or let the story unfold as it will?

When I’m writing fiction, I tend to get the first draft down as quickly as possible. My goal is to get to the end, so any additional thoughts about the bits I’ve already written get quickly noted in a separate file. Once I’ve got that first (usually very rough) draft I go back and deal with all the notes, adding stuff in, writing out tangents and doing any research I need to. Of course, in doing this, even more questions and ideas and tangents occur, so I add them to the now huge file of notes and questions. I go through again and again like this, putting layers on layers, stripping some away, then putting new layers down until the world of the book feels real and complete.
Non-fiction is different. I always start with a fairly detailed outline. Very often, the research or writing process means I need to veer from the outline, but I find if I don’t at least attempt to sketch out the shape of the piece before I start I waste hours (if not days) rambling along very wrong paths.

Is there a favourite place you like to write?

I can write anywhere as long as I have my iPod (I listen to music without lyrics or with lyrics I can’t understand) and a steady supply of coffee.

Can you tell us a little about being the Writer in Residence at the Djerassi Artists Program in Northern California in 2009?

It was an incredible experience. A bunch of artists working across various forms, together in a gorgeous house set on a remote, truly beautiful piece of land amongst the Californian redwoods. I wrote all day, stopping only to take long walks on which I’d be unlikely to run into anyone and very likely to stumble across half-hidden sculptures or wandering deer. At night, we’d all gather for a meal and a chat. In four weeks I completely re-wrote Smoke in the Room, a novel I’d been struggling with for three years. Magic.

You have written essays and articles on sex and feminism that have been widely published, can you tell us a little about your obvious passion for the subject?

I find it unacceptable that girls and women are treated as second-class citizens (or worse, not citizens at all). The specific ways in which women are treated as less than men, and girls as less than boys, varies from place to place but it’s true almost everywhere. I don’t accept that and I don’t accept the argument that because things are better (in some places, in some ways) than they used to be that we should think ourselves lucky and shut up about it all. Girls and women are human and so entitled to human rights — all of them, all the time, everywhere.

What does being a woman mean to you?

In my day-to-day working life when it’s just me, sitting at a keyboard inventing stuff it doesn’t mean anything to me. Not that I’m conscious of, anyway. When I leave my writing cave I tend to be reminded of what it means to others though. From the way salespeople treat me differently to my husband, to the news reports about people with the same set of reproductive organs as me being routinely raped and beaten or denied healthcare or education, to the racing adrenalin every time I have to walk to my car alone at night – the world has ways of making sure I remember I’m a woman and that this means I am less worthwhile and less free than if I wasn’t.
So, within myself I feel fine about being a woman – it’s just one of the many, many things that goes toward making me me. But I feel angry about what being a woman means to the world at large. Hence, feminism!

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