Margot Livesey on Choosing the Right Idea for a New Book
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: You probably hear a lot of stories of real life. What makes a certain story elevate to the point where you want to spend potentially years with it exploring the ideas in a book?
Margot Livesey: I don’t really know precisely. When this man, I’ll call him Mark, told me the story [of finding the body of a murdered young woman in his garden], I could picture the scene. I knew the village in Scotland he was talking about, and the level of feeling that came through his voice made it stick in my mind. When I’m starting a novel, I’m always looking for that place where my private interests intersect with public interests. And I was interested in how I could use the trope, if you will, of finding a body as a way to explore something about my characters. You know, many, many detective stories or mysteries begin with a body, so I wanted to take that but take it in a very different direction.
Mitzi Rapkin: Was there one certain question or a few that nagged at you that you wanted to explore?
Margot Livesey: I wanted to write or think once again about issues of family and DNA. Really, my entire life I thought of myself as belonging to a very small family. I was the only child of two only children, and around the time that I encountered the old school friend, Mark, I also discovered that I did have relatives. In fact, I had many relatives, and they all happen to be in Australia. I finally went to meet them. So, some of the novel’s preoccupations are about what does it mean to be connected through DNA and blood, as opposed to through affection and empathy.
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Margot Livesey is a writer and teacher. Her first book, published in 1986, was a collection of stories called Learning By Heart. Since then Margot has published eight novels: Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona, The House on Fortune Street, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Mercury, and The Boy in the Field. The Hidden Machinery, a collection of essays on writing, was published by Tin House Books in 2017.