The Friday Slot - author Margot Livesey
She has an amazing literary pedigree, having been published since 1986, when her first book, a collection of short stories, Learning By Heart, came out in Canada. Since then, seven novels have appeared, including the highly acclaimed Eva Moves the Furniture and The House on Fortune Street, as well as short stories in The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly. She grew up in the Scottish Highlands and took a degree in English Literature at York University before heading across the Atlantic, and is currently writer-in-residence at Emerson College.
I'd read her novel, The Missing World, when it came out 12 years ago, and wondered why I hadn't heard of her before, why Scotland didn't lay a greater claim to such a wonderful writer. In 2001, Margot published Eva Moves the Furniture, an autobiographical novel about her mother, who died when she was very young, then in 2004 she wrote Banishing Veronica, with a narrator who suffers with Asperger's, based on the son of a friend she knew. Her books are always different, always a challenge, yet 'readable' too. In fact, on that topic of readability, she talks very revealingly in this interview around the time of that book's publication, and I thought it would be worth repeating here what she says:
"As someone who, for almost a decade, got rejections that began "This is beautifully written, but..." I think I had a period as a young writer when I saw beautiful writing as a liability, but I was also confused as to what beautiful writing was. I think I was, like many young writers, infatuated with a certain kind of rather purplish prose, a rather obvious kind of beauty, and I think one of the ways in which I improved as a writer was when I realized that beauty in fiction, and beauty in prose, was more complicated than that. And the challenge was not really to write about a sunset as if it were beautiful, because that had a very obvious beauty. You know the challenge was to write about going to MacDonald's as if it was beautiful. If one's prose was going to be beautiful, then it had to manage to be beautiful about the less obvious as well as the more obvious. It's terribly important to me how my sentences are shaped, and how they sound, and where they carry the reader, even though part of my ambition is that readers will just be able to give themselves over to the flow of the narrative and to the characters and the plot. So I'm trying simultaneously to write prose that I think is beautiful and that can be read and reread with pleasure and that is also not too obtrusive."
But I'm here to ask her about her new novel, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, a wonderful tale of an orphaned young Scottish girl who goes to work for a strange, silent landowner. Its plot deliberately recalls Jane Eyre, and Margot has written about the Brontes here, for The Millions website: http://www.themillions.com/2012/02/the-beginning-of-the-brontes.html. As always, it is a sensitive, touching read that reveals something about how we interact with one another, but it's also about how we relate to the spaces around us. I hope it will work to remind those of us in Scotland what a wonderful writer we have in Margot!