Monday, July 29, 2019

Q&A with Maggie Gee

Maggie Gee, photo by Nick Rankin
Maggie Gee is the author of the new novel Blood. Her many other books include the novel Virginia Woolf in Manhattan. She is a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University, and she lives in London and Ramsgate in the U.K.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Blood, and for your character Monica?

A: Inside every quiet, well-behaved, over-socialised woman is an inner Monica - outrageously frank, big-hearted, outspoken, sexy, brave and unstoppable.

My Monica is an enormously tall and strong senior teacher who took boxing lessons as a schoolgirl. She speaks her thoughts aloud and does exactly as she wants to. It's Monica vs the Patriarchy in the shape of a bullying and abusive dentist father, macho terrorists and, metaphorically, the whole cast of absurd male bullies who seem to be running the world at the moment.

Q: The review of the book in The Scotsman, by Allan Massie, says, "Monica is absurd; she’s given to self-pity as well as anger; she deceives herself rather than others. Even to herself, she is sometimes a figure of fun." What do you think of that assessment?

A: He's a good novelist but he's also an octogenarian white male and I think he missed the consistent cheery self-mockery in her voice, which is also a quality I love in my female friends - we laugh at ourselves more than men do, don't we? The Guardian reviewer found her “hilarious” and the Times thought she was “unforgettable” and “blackly comic.” Maybe Allan, like the men in my novel, just didn't know what to make of my naughty Monica.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it?

A: Honestly, no. I did know what question I was answering - how can liberal democracies deal with ISIS and the absolute violence of terrorism? - but I wrote the new ending on a trip to Russia last spring, where I was invited to talk about a short story of mine set for a national Russian translation competition.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?

A: A sense of relief that the terror in the story has resolved. A nuanced view of whether or not there is a happy ending. Love for children and determination that they are listened to and respected, as Monica herself was not. Courage to speak out against liars and bullies.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A fable where Neanderthals are still alive. Driven north by global warming they mysteriously start arriving along the South Coast of England about five years into the future. They have much to learn but also much to teach us. It's a gentle, hopeful, affectionate book.  

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Yes, all my books are different. Fentum also published Virginia Woolf in Manhattan in the U.S. this year - a literary fairy-story where Virginia Woolf comes back to life 70 years after her death and has a wonderful time in New York and Istanbul.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Maggie Gee.

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