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Author Archive: "Emily Maguire"

Together in Solitude

I was a high school dropout, so most of my jobs (and I've had plenty) have been of the low-skilled, low-paid service variety. I was a miserable human being during the years I worked in fast food restaurants, clothing shops, telecom offices and insurance brokers. At the time I thought my misery was caused by the degrading and incredibly dull nature of the work; now that I've been out of that kind of job for a few years I think that the work itself was only a minor contributor to my wretchedness.

See, the thing about the service industry is that you are constantly surrounded by people and noise. There is always another customer waiting to be served, a phone needing to be answered or a bored co-worker wanting to discuss her plans for the weekend. Only when I started working full-time from home and began to go days without seeing or speaking to anyone did I realize how much being around other people drains me.

Since I've been working alone my entire personality has changed. I'm calmer, kinder and more creative. I do not growl at shop assistants and postal workers. When I see friends and family now I feel genuinely


Love is Hell

One of the things I wanted to do with Taming the Beast was tell a good old-fashioned love story. In other words, I wanted to write a book full of madness, violence, cruelty and pain.

The idea that love stories are bright, inspirational tales with happy endings is a very modern one; for most of western literary history, love has been associated with illness and madness. Going right back to the beginning, to the ancient Greek and Roman poets, we find that love is a thoroughly nasty business. To Sappho it is "crippling," and like a stinging insect; it is so debilitating that she cannot work or think. When she watches her beloved talking and laughing with a man, she is literally blinded with jealousy; she is feverish and begins to shake — she is "not far off dying."

Tibullus repeatedly declares his willingness to undertake any physical trial, to endure broken blisters and sun scorched skin, to suffer the humiliation of assisting his beloved in her clandestine meetings with other lovers, just for the privilege of being able to see her. He is willing to take to "crime and bloodshed" and says that love makes him feel


Risks and Rewards of Re-reading

In the P.S. section of the US edition of Taming the Beast there is a short essay about my obsession with Jane Eyre, which I reread every year. The other book I have re-read annually since my mid-teens is The Great Gatsby.

Depending on what is going on in my life I switch between identifying with Nick, Daisy, Gatsby and, one awful year, Myrtle Wilson. The first half-dozen readings I was absorbed by the story itself, tearing through to reach the gory hit-and-run, George Wilson's fatal grief and Gatsby floating on the swimming pool. Around the seventh read I began to notice the lightness and precision of the language and the faultless construction. Having read it more than a dozen times I'm still not really sure whether it is warning, consolation or inspiration. I'll probably never know for sure.

Re-reading a beloved book can be risky. Last year, wanting a comfort read, I picked up Anne of Green Gables. Reading it as a child I remember being upset by Matthew's death — I may even have shed a tear — but I was not inconsolable as I had been when Charlotte died in Charlotte's Web. So


Sex in Fiction

Why is fiction concerned with sex automatically labelled erotica or pornography even when the sex described is sad, harrowing, abusive, or otherwise un-sexy? Why do so many critics treat sex as a light, fluffy subject or something the writer has inserted into the book just to ramp up sales? And why do many writers shy away from describing sex, as though what goes on in the bedroom is too private to share even with readers who've been privy to the inner thoughts of the character from page one?

Mechanically, sex is pretty simple. There are only so many different ways to do it, only so many variations of fitting Tab A into Slot B or C. But the experience of sex changes all the time and this provides a writer with enormous scope. There are layers of experience — physical, emotional, spiritual, historical, political — and all those layers can go into a sex scene so that, rather than writing about two bodies bumping against each other, you're really writing about two histories, two intellects, two bundles of fear and hope and hunger colliding.

A well-written sex scene can show more about a character than pages ...

Identity Crisis

When I was a kid, every book represented a complete world into which I would disappear for however long it took me to read it. In what was perhaps an early sign of my inherent atheism, it never occurred to me these worlds had to have been created by someone. So I was well into my teens before I had more than a vague awareness of the existence of writers, and I was well into my twenties and a published writer myself before I realized that many people expect the writer to be as interesting as the book.

I discovered this right around the same time I discovered that many people assume that all first novels by writers under 30 are autobiographical. When my novel Taming the Beast was published here in Australia, I found myself suddenly having to talk to people who not only expected me to be interesting, but expected me to be interesting in the exact same way as my promiscuous, damaged, reckless protagonist Sarah is interesting.

This expectation has created some awkward moments. A reporter who wrote a profile of me when the book was released admitted I was not at all ...

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