Quick Ten with Emily Perkins

Wednesday, 25th August, 2010

The second installment in the Quick Ten Interview series.



Emily Perkins

Photo credit Rebecca Swan / Doublescoop


A rare being - internationally successful, award winning writer and presenter of The Good Word - Emily Perkins answers questions about what happens when acting and writing converge, Books vs Paintings and acting in the movie of the Novel About My Wife.

You can follow Emily on Twitter.

There are affiliate links in this interview. I’ve found The Book Depository to be the cheapest and quickest place to find books and recommend them without hesitation. Free delivery anywhere in the world is an amazing thing.

The first question is from Ashleigh Young who has a curly one for you:

So many people loved "Not her real name" and some writers tried to emulate it. Then you went off and did a completely different thing. Do you think you'll ever write a collection of short stories again? Also, have you ever met Patrick Evans and if so, were things civil between you?

EP: Ha – I haven’t met him. I’m sure he’s a personable guy. He’s been photographed wearing Mickey Mouse ears, which is always a good sign. Looking forward to reading his book.

For sure I’ll keep writing short stories and hopefully publish another collection. One of the books I’ve been working on is a sort of story-novel hybrid. My dream is to sustain the precision and intensity of stories through a longer work.


HH: I'm really interested in how having a background in more than one creative discipline effects your work as a writer. Also, having a husband who is a visual artist must have some impact surely? What happens when acting, painting and writing converge?

EP: Hm, I think the main influence from drama is probably in the imaginative act, the focus you bring to visualizing a scene or an interior moment. I say visualizing but really you’re trying to engage all the senses. Similar to acting but in writing you’re on your own and you can redraft.

I’ve learned a lot from artists over the years about just getting on with it – the importance of routine, daily application to the work.

At the moment I’m doing a little collaboration that involves me drawing, which is hilarious and insanely good fun. Awesome to try something new and have the freedom of engaging a different part of the brain and not caring if it looks completely amateur. Maybe that’s the thing with different disciplines: one might be your life’s work but it’s enriching and liberating to be a rank amateur in others. A few years ago I thought Am Dram would be a good form of make-your-own fun but now wonder if I’d have the guts. I might skip straight to the waitressing..


HH: You mentioned in an interview a couple of years ago that:

“I'm really interested in how we construct ourselves, the building up of identity and how much we live as a known quantity and how much we're mysteries to ourselves and how much we invent ourselves and live in other people.”

How different is creating a character for stage or screen to creating a character in a novel?

EP: So far, in my writing, it happens differently every time. In one of my current projects the characters emerged clearly after the initial draft, which was very much about sensory experience. I’ve fitted the characters to the story world rather than the other way round. In the other project, there are two female characters and one man who are leading it. They’ve been clearly defined from the start.

It’s a very long time since I played a character on stage. Of course someone else has given you the words. The last thing I did was probably one of my better efforts because I was really lost about acting and on the verge of giving up, so didn’t try too hard, and the play was a Mamet so the language was all you really needed.


HH: You're probably sick of talking about distance, location and exile as themes in your work by now. Do you think these themes will keep coming up in your work or are you done and dusted?

EP: Well, to return to these two projects, which both have a strong sense of place – one isn’t about those things at all and one has a character who is quite defined by being out of her home country.


HH: In my last interview Elizabeth Knox said she'd like to answer more really writerly questions about story and syntax, rhetoric and imagery. What do you wish people would ask you? Would you like to tell us about your rhetoric and imagery?

EP: I’d like to read Elizabeth’s answers. I wish there were more of these discussions, the kind of symposium where writers can talk to each other and a readerly audience about technique, craft, art, theory, etc, without it being an academic context or the festival event focus on the story/plot of a single book or the author biography. You know, those events are very much about what happens, not how it happens.

Um, so to take the opportunity briefly – the rhetoric seems to develop over the early stages of a draft and that style is intimately connected to the characters and mood. The organising principle. There's that funny thing with writing where each book has its own flavour but perhaps there is some recognizable author voice behind them all. Being on the inside of the writing is like being inside your own self, where you experience yourself as sort of pH neutral and you forget that it might come across as very positively one thing or another, on the outside.


HH: What writing projects have you been working on since Novel about my Wife?

EP: These two novels, for the most part. Some other smaller stuff.


HH: How would you describe your creative process? Do you sit down and slog it out everyday? How does it get squeezed in with teaching, parenthood and The Good Word?

EP: I write five days a week, though not always on the project that needs the most attention. My process could broadly be described as alternating between moss-like accumulation in a fairly relaxed manner, and intense slightly nauseous focus. The children are all in school now. Prep for teaching and The Good Word tends to happen at night, I can’t really write fiction after getting the kids to bed. And we do end up sometimes working on the weekends but that’s much more family time.


HH: Suspend disbelief for a moment... You're asked to play Ann in a movie version of Novel About my Wife – would you take the job?

EP: Oh no. I would be so wrong for the part it’s unimaginable!


HH: Is it Books vs. Paintings in your house when it comes to what takes up space?

EP: It’s Books vs. Everything and the books are winning. I suppose e-readers will change this and maybe one of the unexpected silver linings will be more wall-space for paintings. But right now I love ‘real’ books in shelves and am not ready to give them up.


HH: Who are you reading at the moment?

EP: I’m a bit frustrated with my reading at the moment. For work I have an Albanian novel, Ornela Vorspi’s The Country Where No One Ever Dies, and some writing on anarchism (The Coming Insurrection – speaking of rhetoric, that is written/translated in the most exhilarating style). For fun, dipping in and out of Clarice Lispector’s Cronicas (a Fergus Barrowman tip) and the David Lipsky/David Foster Wallace interviews. But I can’t read certain books I’ve been looking forward to – the Robin Black short stories, the new Maile Meloy, other stuff – because I’ve got a feeling they’ll somehow fuck me up at this stage of writing.

So it is very slow passing through fantasy novels I read as a kid: Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea.


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