[Interview] Jon McGregor

Jon McGregor's first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, found him a place as the youngest contender and the only first-time novelist on the 2002 Booker Prize longlist.

The novel went on to win the 2003 Somerset Maugham Award. It was also shortlisted in the Best First Book category in the Eurasia Region of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the Best Newcomer category in the 2004 British Book Awards.

His latest novel, So Many Ways to Begin, made it onto the 2006 Man Booker Prize longlist.

Jon McGregor spoke about his writing and the qualities that set his writing apart.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Firstly, when I was about 14, and listening to too many Smiths records. But more seriously when I was around 20, at university, and rapidly discovering there wasn't much else I was good at.

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.

As far as your writing is concerned, who would you say has influenced you the most?

Don DeLillo. Richard Brautigan. John McGahern. A.L. Kennedy.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

When I was younger and poorer, I used to hitch-hike everywhere. I heard enough stories — confessions really — during those years to last me a lifetime.

As a writer, what would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Being original - being worth reading. Keeping the same burning drive and ambition which I had before anyone had bought any of my books. Mastering the semi-colon.

Your book has been placed on the Man Booker Prize 2006. What is the book about?

So Many Ways To Begin is the story of a marriage; it's the story of two people trying to make a life together, and the way their own families and histories impact upon this life. It's also about museums, identity, storytelling, and the difficulty of starting again.

How long did it take you to write it?

About three years.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

The writing.

Which did you enjoy most?

The thinking about it beforehand.

What would you say sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

My previous novel was a collage of snapshots; So Many Ways To Begin has a tighter focus, a more sustained look at a smaller group of characters.

In what way is it similar?

Hopefully, I've retained an attention to detail which reveals quiet truths about the characters without anything needing to be spelt out.

Which themes will you be exploring in your next book?

I don't know, but I think it will be uglier.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Finding readers, getting paid.

How did you get there?

I have absolutely no idea.


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