Cutting it fine: Books as heroin

The Cutting Room by Mary Watson.

The Cutting Room by Mary Watson.

Describe yourself in a sentence.

Describe your ideal reader.
I tend towards understatement so I appreciate readers who enjoy ­subtlety. My ideal reader would like careful prose, a good sense of story and would enjoy making the connections that are suggested but not quite spelled out.

What was the originating idea for your new novel, The Cutting Room?
I attended an exhibition in Dublin in 2003 called Spiritus. There was a series of photographs of seances, including pictures of ectoplasm, that resonated with my interest in surrealism and film.
I also wanted to write a thriller that explored the psychology of living in a society with a high level of crime.

Describe the process of writing the novel. How long did it take?
Although I started thinking about it as early as 2003, I only started ­writing around 2005. I was working full time at the University of Cape Town and completing my doctorate, so writing fiction had to fit in around that. I had a clear idea of the middle and end of the book, but didn’t have a detailed outline nor did I write chronologically. After moving countries, having two babies, and my mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis, I finished the book in early 2011.

How significant to The Cutting Room was returning to Cape Town to teach film studies in the mid-2000s?
There is a close relationship between my research into film and the book. They are very different, but I do tend to think of my PhD and The Cutting Room as siblings of sorts. They explore some overlapping ideas, but in very different ways.

Name some writers who have inspired you and tell us briefly why or how.
Sarah Waters is a longtime favourite, as is Maggie O’Farrell. Both write beautiful prose, find exquisite ways of expressing complex emotions or impressions and tell page-turning stories. It’s a careful balance and ­surprisingly rare.

Do you write by hand, or use a typewriter or computer?
I prefer computer because it’s faster and I have a lazy hand for writing. But I do keep notebooks that are filled with plot details, ink stamps, bits of poetry or anything that I find inspiring. I like to use longhand for generating new ideas and the computer for writing and editing.

What is the purpose of fiction?
Books are my portal to another world. I read a wide range of fiction and this allows all kinds of possibilities: I can escape, visit awhile with imaginary friends, be inspired, devour something beautiful, learn something new, or have a laugh. I think for some people books are like sugar or heroin, and we can’t do without a regular story fix.


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