[Interview] Jon McGregor, author of ‘So Many Ways to Begin’

Jon McGregor was born in Bermuda in 1976. He grew up in Norfolk in the east of England and now lives in Nottingham.

His first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, found him a place as the youngest contender and the only first-time novelist on the 2002 Booker Prize longlist. It has since won a 2003 Somerset Maugham Award, and has been shortlisted in the Best First Book category in the Eurasia Region of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the Best Newcomer category in the 2004 British Book Awards.

McGregor’s latest novel, So Many Ways to Begin, was longlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize.

Jon McGregor spoke about his writing and the qualities that set his writing apart.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Firstly, when I was about 14, and listening to too many Smiths records. But more seriously when I was around 20, at university, and rapidly discovering there wasn’t much else I was good at.

In the writing that you’re doing, what would you say are your main concerns?

Life and the choices people make. Love and loss. The small details which make a big picture. The gaps between what people say to one another.

In as far as your writing is concerned, who would you say has influenced you the most?

Don DeLillo. Richard Brautigan. John McGahern. A.L.Kennedy.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

When I was younger and poorer, I used to hitch-hike everywhere. I heard enough stories — confessions really — during those years to last me a lifetime.

As a writer, what would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Being original — being worth reading. Keeping the same burning drive and ambition which I had before anyone had bought any of my books. Mastering the semi-colon.

Your book has been placed on the Man Booker Prize 2006. What is the book about?

So Many Ways To Begin is the story of a marriage; it’s the story of two people trying to make a life together, and the way their own families and histories impact upon this life. It’s also about museums, identity, storytelling, and the difficulty of starting again.

How long did it take you to write it?

About three years.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

The writing.

Which did you enjoy most?

The thinking about it beforehand.

What would you say sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

My previous novel was a collage of snapshots; So Many Ways To Begin has a tighter focus, a more sustained look at a smaller group of characters.

In what way is it similar?

Hopefully, I’ve retained an attention to detail which reveals quiet truths about the characters without anything needing to be spelt out.

Which themes will you be exploring in your next book?

I don’t know, but I think it will be uglier.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Finding readers, getting paid.

How did you get there?

I have absolutely no idea.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

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3 Responses to “[Interview] Jon McGregor, author of ‘So Many Ways to Begin’”
  1. kathleen McGregor-Green says:

    I am a member of our local library book club (Thornton Cleveleys Lancs)
    Thanks to them them I was introduced to your book.
    What an absolute delight, You have a beautiful way with words, your desriptive passages so realistic I felt I knew all these people persoanlly.
    Indeed ,as I closed the book on the last pages I felt I had found so many new friends , so many people who had enriched, my life.
    Thank you doesn’t seem enough but it is truly meant.

  2. pamela sarig says:

    When I purchased your book from a secondhand book shop I had no idea what I was buying. I think it was the fact that it was set in the North of England. I live abroad and I guess it made me think of home.

    I have just finished it and for the first time in my life felt I had to contact the author.

    Your book is a little masterpiece, reading your words was like listening to a beautiful piece of music. A symphony of charactures, objects and sounds. You brought life to the people to such an extent that I heard myself saying “please don’t let it be the little girl, her father has been through so much already!”.

    This is a book I shall keep and enjoy reading again.

    Thank you so much

  3. Judith Power says:

    Our book group loved your book. I was asked to prepare something for our library news letter. This is what I wrote:
    We have been going as a group for something over two years. So far we have read 32 books, and mostly have a good discussion, with the usual agreements and disagreements – all very cosy and amicable.
    But our October 2009 meeting was something else…not only were there many and various opinions about the book, but there was no consensus even about what had happened in the story. To preserve everyone’s blushes, I’ll change the names, but Mavis thought there had been a heavenly miracle (and she’s an atheist); Lynette hadn’t realised there were timeshifts and part of the story was happening three years later; Josephine thought there was a set of twins in the story;Amanda was certain there was not; Hilary thought the old couple had never had children;Enid said yes they had; Florence said Aberdeen was obviously a strange city; Pauline hadn’t noticed the Scottish subplot;Alexandra introduced a discussion on parenting roles in the provinces and related this to the class-structure; Tallulah and Harriet detected echoes of ‘Under Milk Wood’ in the opening paragraphs. Tallulah liked the book because of this, Harriet remembered her dislike of UMW and so did not give this book a complete thumbs up. We all loved the poetic beauty of the language. All in all we agreed that this was the book which had provoked the liveliest discussion in our two years plus history. We all recommend that you get it for your reading group and see what you think.
    You may need the details of the book to order. It’s If nobody thinks of remarkable things’ by Jon McGregor.

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