About The Author
Scottish writer Jenni Fagan (author photo by Urszula Soltys) graduated in Creative Writing from Greenwich University with the highest possible grade. Since graduating she has worked for the Norfolk Blind Association as a creative writing tutor, been Lewisham Hospital's Writer in Residence and built The Scold's Bridle, a large sculpture engraved with words written by young offenders and women in prison.
For her poetry, Fagan has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize and has won a number of other awards.
In the 2013, she was selected as one of Granta magazine's decennial list of the 20 Best Young British Novelists.
Here she talks about taking on any work she could find to allow her to keep writing, leaving books out on her garden wall for people to take and her precarious favourite reading spot.
Watch a video of Jenni talking about her debut novel, Panopticon
Questions & Answers
Why do you write?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember and originally (as a child) it was to record what I saw, to entertain, to find a place where I could have a voice.
I write now because I can't not write, it's become a way of being. I enjoy that magpie way of storing and stashing little bits of things that glitter, that turn up later in prose or poems. I also love the way writing surprises me -- if it stopped doing that, it wouldn't be worth it.
What were you doing before you became a writer?
I always thought I was a writer, becoming published was part of that journey but I thought I was a writer even when I was doing crap jobs, especially then I guess.
As a kid I worked in fish and chip shops, burger bars. Later on I worked in record shops, as a barmaid, an art gallery assistant, I was a cleaner for a long-time (when I was ill in my twenties) then a receptionist, painter and decorator - I'd turn my hand to whatever I needed to do so I could pay my bills and write in my own time. Manual work suited me at times as well, it allowed me to use my brain without distraction.
Who are your literary idols?
I have a lot of writers who I return to for various reasons and these would include Kafka, Celine, Knut Hamsun, Gertrude Stein, Carson McCullers, James Kelman, Irvine Welsh, Cookie Mueller, Jeanette Winterson, Leonora Carrington, Milan Kundera, Roberto Bolano, Reinaldo Arenas, Beckett, Pinter, Sarah Kane, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, William Burroughs, Nabokov, Margaret Atwood, Ali Smith, A.L.Kennedy, Charles Bukowski, Alan Ginsberg, Helen Oyeyemi, Hunter S Thompson, Joseph Ridgwell, Breece D'J Pancake; at the moment I am reading Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay, she's great!
Your favourite book?
The Magic Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton, it got me through being five-years-old and for that I'm eternally grateful.
Approximately how many books do you own?
A lot. I have given away loads over the years as well, I used to live in Peckham and I'd leave them out on the garden wall sometimes. It was funny seeing who picked up what book. There were a few people in for a shock later on...
What have been the landmark moments in your life to date?
Giving birth. Staying alive. Playing music in little rehearsal rooms with the lights out and the volume turned up. Leaving care. Going into care. Being homeless. Renting my first flat. Selling my first piece of writing age 20 and going to travel on my own around the States and Canada with a friend and drag queen. Losing my best friend last year. Losing people. Meeting my partner. Having two beautiful cats for twenty years and being there for them when they died. Drinking whiskey in Jason Arthur's (William Heinemann) office while finalising the last pages of The Panopticon, watching the sun set on the rooftops. Falling in love. Watching the original Nosferatu in a go-go bar in New York at 5 am while the bar-guy showed me his best tips for dancing. Staying in the most shambolic no-stars pension in downtown Cairo. Working with writers who are visually impaired, in prison, in care, or recovering from a myriad of life's impossibilities. Walking in the monsoon in the Cape Verdi Islands. Taking the greyhound across the States. Meeting my father. Writing. Graduating. Straightening up. Moving on. Meeting my literary idols and finding their encouragement, warmness and generosity wholly astounding.
Tell us about a book you own that you've never read.
The Tibetan Book of The Dead, it's very pretty and in my large pile of books that is endlessly being added to. I do always, eventually, read everything.
Hunter S Thompson used to type out The Great Gatsby to know what it felt like to write it. What would be your choice?
Something short, a haiku by Li Po perhaps, so then I could get back to my own work.
What are your writing habits?
I start thinking about my novel and the next days writing, the night before. I take notes occasionally although I have been berated by other writers for not carrying a notepad. I tend to remember what I need to remember. I also take photographs, I like to do automatic writing, I write as much as I can that way then I try and work out what my brain is actually doing afterwards. I write like the Green Man - i.e. with total spontaneous intent but I revise and edit with a clinical and exceptionally critical eye.
Where is your favourite place to read?
There's a rock up Arthur's Seat (an old volcano in Edinburgh) the rock is really flat and it is nestled halfway up the cliff-face. It's a precarious climb but the views are great and it's totally secluded.