Maire Fisher is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Cape Town. Birdseye is her first novel.
Author: Máire Fisher
Date of Birth: 17 May 1958
Date of Interview: 11 September 2014 (via email)
Place: Somewhere in Cape Town
The Book: Birdseye
1. Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
That’s almost impossible to answer. When I was a young girl, I’d have answered in a flash, Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. Now it changes from year to year.
2. What is your most treasured possession?
My computer files packed with pictures of my husband Rob and my two sons, Dan and Kieran.
3. Which living person do you most dislike?
There’s something about Vladimir Putin that gives me the deepest of deep creeps. But he has stiff competition from people like Sarah Palin, Anders Breivik, several of our cabinet ministers … the frackers and the tar sands miners and the mineral sands mining companies… Can’t say I like those people too much…
4. What is your greatest fear?
Having something happen to one of my children. That’s a crippling thought.
5. Who or what has been the greatest love of your life?
I’m going to answer this
with a Who: my husband Rob Fisher and a What: really great books – a great
beginning, a solid middle and a totally satisfying ending.
6. What is your greatest regret?
These are such difficult questions! I suppose in the context of this interview it would be not getting a novel written earlier than I did … so many reasons, so many excuses!
7. If you could choose to be a character in a book, who would it be?
I’d love to be someone like Thursday Next of SpecOps-27. Librarian, mother and Jasper Fforde’s Literary Detective who works for Jurisfiction (the policing agency within Fiction). Thursday Next was responsible for unravelling the mystery of Jane Eyre’s disappearance from the pages of Charlotte Brontë’s classic. After working tirelessly on The Eyre Affair she found herself Lost in a Good Book, deep in The Well of Lost Plots dealing with Something Rotten, and (not to be boastful), First Among Sequels. Things became worrisome when it was learned that One of our Thursdays is Missing, and that she might very well be The Woman Who Died a Lot.
8. Which book have you read the most in your lifetime?
Bel Canto, Pride and Prejudice, my ragged and falling-apart-at-the-seams collection of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. I tend to re-read poetry more than I do fiction: Sonnets to the Portuguese, anything by Christina Rossetti, the wonderful selection of South African poetry published by Colleen Higgs of Modjaji. Oh, and books on writing too. Stephen King’s On Writing, Writing down the Bones and others by Natalie Goldberg, The Creative Writing Coursebook, one of my old favourites, edited by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs . The moment I send this off, I know I’ll think of a dozen more. (And, once again, I can’t limit my answer to one.)
9. What is your favourite journey?
Metaphorically? The one I embark on when I start a novel (hoping to travel from that great beginning and onwards). Literally, and very much part of my life now: driving the coast road on my way home to Fish Hoek – sea to the left of me, mountains to the right and beyond. And then – going back many years to when Rob and I went sailing – our first ocean crossing on the gentle and benign Atlantic.
10. What is your favourite quotation?
When I was in Std 5 (Grade 7) I saw Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. I can’t tell you how many times I read that play! Often enough to go beyond knowing ‘But soft what light from yonder window breaks’.
If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.
And of course: ‘Oh happy dagger, this is thy sheath, there rust and let me die…’ Each time I read it, I make a good dent in a box of tissues.
11. Dogs or Cats? Which do you prefer?
Dogs in general. Irish Terriers in particular.
12. What do you most value in a friend?
13. What quality do you most admire in a woman?
14. Which book that you’ve written is your favourite?
Well, that’s an easy one: Birdseye, my first and only thus far..
15. What are your favourite names?
Kate for a girl. (I used to love the name Dearbháil – or Dervla – but couldn’t imagine trying to explain the spelling of that … Máire has been enough of a battle at times…). Kieran and Daniel for boys (and Liam and Finn).
16. What do you do as a hobby?
I love watch a good movie, or, more and more often these days, a good series. Borgen is my absolute favourite at the moment! Reading of course. And I wish I could say walking, which I am trying to do more often. I used to sew, miles and miles of cotton knit on my overlocker, but that was more to clothe a bunch of little boys, than because I have any knack for it.
17. Which are your three favourite books?
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
- The Blind Assassin by Kate Atkinson
- My Children Have Faces by Carol Campbell or The Spiral House by Claire Roberts.
18. Where do you get your greatest ideas for writing?
From free-writing. And in the shower, after I’ve woken up, in those half-asleep, half-awake moments, standing under the warm water.
19. What is your Writing Routine?
I love to write in large chunks of time when I go away for a week’s retreat to write at the Grail in Kleinmond. Those are times when I can really leave my home work at home. Otherwise I’ll take myself off to a café and write for a whole morning. I am trying hard to get rid of the hang-up that I have about my desk at home. Whenever I sit there to do my own writing, I can literally hear other people’s work whispering, “But what about me? What about us?” One of the drawbacks of being a freelance editor…
20. What are your Top Writing Tips?
- Freewriting Nothing (for me) beats freewriting. Getting into that zone where your pen follows that first thought and letting it take you wherever it wants to go. So set your timer, grab a prompt and write.
- & Focussed Freewriting When I have material that needs to be added in, I freewrite. If I know Jack needs to kiss Susie in a certain scene then I’ll make my prompt ‘In which Jack kisses Susie’. How will he do it? I’m not sure. Where? Also not sure. Will he even manage to pluck up the courage to do so? I’m not sure. All I know is, that’s my prompt and somehow, by the time I’ve written that scene – in a focussed freewrite, the Jack/Susie kiss will have come a long way, and any manner of interesting things might have happened along the way. (Will Susie let Jack kiss her? I don’t know. Will she slap him? I don’t know. Will Jack turn out to be the absolutely worst kisser in the whole world…? I’ll freewrite it and see.)
- Writing dates I like writing alone, and do so often, but a good way of committing a set time to writing is to make writing dates. Meet with a friend and write together. Some people hate this idea. I like the energy generated when I write with someone else or in a group.
- Know your characters Whatever you do, get to know your characters. Even if it means that you do some writing that you may not use, this will never be wasted. Create a good bio data sheet. There’s an excellent one in So You Want to Write by Marge Piercy and Ira Wood. But don’t just jot down one word answers. Get your characters to answer you properly. Sometimes you can write for forty-five minutes or more on just one question. And as you ask them to tell you about anything, from the colour of their first car, to their job, to their greatest fear, you’ll get to hear how they speak, how they feel, and sometimes, even, what they don’t want to tell you.
- Read your work aloud. What seems/sounds fine as you write it, often clunks when you read it aloud. Sometimes it’s just one word dragging a sentence down. When you read aloud you’ll hear it.
- Don’t judge your work the moment you’ve written it when you’re doing first-draft writing. When I do this, my inner critic is right there, sitting on my shoulder, telling me how awful it is. What I’m writing has hardly broken ground, and already I want to rip it up by its roots. I’d much rather spend that valuable time writing more of my first draft, getting the story down. That early writing time is such fun, and the ideas are so new and fresh. Why ruin it by trying to edit too early?
- Don’t forget to breathe (deeply and consciously) and remember to relax your neck and shoulders. Stretch. Get up from your seat and shake!
- Trust your writer’s mind. Your mind does wonderful work for you – while you’re sleeping, eating, chatting on the phone, your mind is chipping away at a problem, working on filling a plot hole, asking questions about why Jack wanted to kiss Susie in the first place. Just because they aren’t conscious thoughts, doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. Sit down, write ‘In which Jack kisses Susie’ at the top of your page, follow that thought and let your story flow from those back burner thoughts.
- Contain your writing. It’s fine to let a few trusted friends/fellow writers in on your story, but try not to tell everyone and his brother what you’re writing. The more you tell your story, the less fresh it will be and (very likely) the less you want to write it.
- Look up Nanowrimo. It’s a fantastic way to generate first-draft words without becoming too precious about them.
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