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Ian McGuire interview

Ian McGuire interview

Ian McGuire discusses the risk he took with his novel The North Water and the difference he finds between writing and reading violence. 

This is part of our series of Man Booker Prize 2016 longlisted author interviews.

What has it been like to be longlisted? 

Very exciting, and a very pleasant surprise. The North Water is a big departure from the themes and manner of my first novel, Incredible Bodies, which was a campus comedy set in a slightly surreal version of the present day. As I started writing The North Water, I felt like I was setting out in a very different direction and inventing a very different style for myself. When I was finished, I really wasn’t sure how it would be received, and even if it would find a friendly publisher. So to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize feels like a very pleasing endorsement of my decision to take a risk and write a different kind of novel. 

What are you working on next?

A spy novel set in Manchester in the late 1860s. The spying is related to the conflict between the British government and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (a precursor of the I.R.A.) who were active in Northwest England at the time.

What are you reading at the moment?

Kim Leine, The Prophets of Eternal Fjord; Christopher Logue, War Music; Lisa McInerney, The Glorious Heresies

What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?

If I had to choose just one, probably J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. I’m also a big admirer of J.G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur from 1973.

The North Water is full of violence, did you find it difficult to write or were you inured to it?

While I’m in the process of writing, my attitude to violence is quite amoral and detached. I’m thinking of how to get the most out of the scene, and how to move the story forward in ways which are interesting and convincing. I know violence is a very powerful ingredient, and so has to be used carefully, but as a writer my attitude towards it is technical more than moral or emotional. So the violent scenes aren’t any harder or easier to write than the non-violent ones. As a reader, of course, my attitude is very different. When I’m reading a novel, like most other readers probably, I connect the events of the narrative to a real world outside the novel, so my response to what is happening on the page has a much larger moral and emotional element. 

Ian McGuire