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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 what she expected. She thought I'd be half-starved and beaten black and blue, chain-smoking and shivering in a sour-smelling grotty flat. I felt I had to apologise for the family portrait sitting on the telly, the fresh flowers on the table, and my unbruised, unstarved body. I felt I'd tricked her somehow, which is weird because I never claimed to have written a memoir, never claimed to be somebody I'm not.

There have been other incidents like this one: an email from a woman stuck in an obsessive relationship asking how 'I' managed to escape; a moderator at a book festival asking what it was 'I' enjoyed about violent sex; a stranger at a book signing telling me that I 'seem to have settled down nicely.' Of course I always respond by (re)stating that the book is fiction and that I am not now and never have been Sarah. And then I walk away feeling I have betrayed my readers by being me instead of her.

The thing I love most about writing is the same thing I have always loved about reading: it makes me disappear. When I'm writing, my brain stops its constant neurotic chatter. I don't feel like I'm three steps behind the rest of the world, tripping over myself trying to keep up. I become a non-person, as irrelevant and unreal to myself as all writers were to me as a book-loving child.

But eventually I have to stop writing and start talking and that is when the weirdness occurs. To be clear, I am not complaining about talking about my book. I love talking about Taming the Beast to journalists and readers and whoever else is interested. And I truly appreciate each and every person who takes the time to email me about the book or come along to a reading or signing. It's just I hate to disappoint.

Later this week I'm heading over to the US for a book tour. I'm really looking forward to meeting my American readers; I just hope I don't let them down by being too much myself.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Taming the Beast (P.S.)
    New Trade Paper $14.99
  2. Taming the Beast (P.S.)
    New Trade Paper $14.99

Emily Maguire is the author of Taming the Beast (P.S.)

2 Responses to "Identity Crisis"

    Karen Cooper October 23rd, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    What a wonderful, revealing blog entry. Thanks so much.
    I am teaching a second year course, "World Literatures in English," and one of my greatest difficulties revolves around convincing the students to seperate the author from the narrator from the protagonist.
    The situation is complicated when aspects of the narrator's or protagonist's lives overlap with those of the author, even if the overlaps are only those of gender or age.
    I intend to hand them this entry on Wednesday to re-inforce the distinctions!

    Emily Maguire October 24th, 2006 at 5:34 am

    Hi Karen. I don't blame readers (particularly younger readers) for assuming the protagonist is the author - our reality TV, confessional culture seems to encourage such assumptions. But I do think it’s important that students of literature understand that everything in a work of fiction is as it is for a reason, that an author chooses this outcome instead of that one for a specific purpose. This understanding of authorial choices is lost when the assumption is that what is in the book is simply what happened in ‘real life.’

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