JU: The Gaps I Mean is a very unsettling story that deals a lot with abjection, the horror of things entering and leaving our bodies. But it seems to be speak more widely about our permeability and porousness as human beings, psychologically, emotionally. Where did you get the idea for the story?
I was interested in migration and the policing of borders, but I wanted to make the issue personal. All walls are porous, even our own. In fact our own body may be the most permeable of all. At the moment the spread of Corvid 19 virus reminds me again that national borders and physical borders often mirror each other. Attitudes to disease can show us who we really are, as individuals and as nations.
JU: I’m interested in how you came to write your protagonist. She’s very witty, and I think fosters sympathy from the Reader because of her experience of grief and also her phobic/obsessive behaviours, but she also seems a little hard, and cold towards others, which makes her less easy to like. Is that fair? Did you set out to write a “less likeable” character or was it the result of writing honestly and making room for that complexity?
One of the liberations of writing is that I don't have to be me. In this story I wanted to understand the thought processes of someone who was pro walls and containment. I wanted to show the futility of it and also the pain and fear that might motivate that kind of thought process. I set out with that intention, but the character then looped back into my own life. The section with George the pig is drawn from my own family history, so in the end I grew really fond of the character I created, even though at the beginning she was someone who holds views far from my own.
JU: What interested you about writing for the pamphlet form? It’s quite unusual for prose fiction to be sold in this form; how did you approach that?
I love the historical associations of the pamphlet, and the fact that it's been used since the birth of printing to foment intellectual rebellion. The challenge of writing something contentious really appealed. In fact the first story I submitted was selected by Goldsmiths, but was subsequently rejected by the printers as being too unpleasant.
JU: What do you remember about your time studying creative writing at Goldsmiths? What did you learn that you’ve carried with you as a writer since then?
It's hard to compress what I learned at Goldsmiths into a few sentences, because it gave me so much. But the single most important lesson was discovering that writing is failure. Hearing writers I admired talk about their struggle to write well, seeing the work they put into writing and rewriting was liberating.
JU: You’re currently writing a novel. Could you tell us a little about it?
The Darkness Alters is a Jungian ghost story. Blue, a 16 year old girl, wakes to find herself at her aunt's spotless breakfast table. Her new home is a model of soulless suburbia, alien to everything she has known in her previous off grid life, but uncanny things begin happening as episodes from her past and her future suddenly interrupt her present. Her only friend Ella turns out to be something less than she appears. Her boyfriend Lock turns out to be something more. Blue's discovery of the truth about the terrible events that destroyed her home and family force her to reframe who she thinks she is, and ultimately to decide what kind of person she wants to become.
JU: Finally, I think that as writers we weigh certain risks as part of our practices. They might be to do with disclosure, or writing something proximate to our experiences that exposes us emotionally a little, or else something more formal, or on the level of language. What risks do you think you take as a writer? What risks do you wish you were more able to take, if any?
My favourite writers take huge risks. I think there has to be some blood in the ink if you want the story to leap off the page. Alan Hollinghurst, Susanna Moore, Margaret Atwood, Edward St. Aubyn - all of them have created beautiful, spiky novels that have inspired me. The challenge is to write stories that are good enough, alive enough, to be worth showing.