Wednesday, September 26, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with C.G. Menon

C. G. Menon is the author of Subjunctive Moods, from Dahlia Publishing. She’s won or been placed in a number of short story competitions, including the Fish, Bridport, Bare Fiction and Short Fiction Journal awards. She has a PhD in pure mathematics and is studying for a creative writing MA at City University. She’s currently working on her first novel, set in 1980s Malaysia

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book has changed my life by effectively not changing my life! There's a tendency to assume that once you get published then that's it: you've made it, in some way. In fact, things go on pretty much the same as always. You still need to buy groceries, ring the bank, do your day job and, of course, write the next one. In a way it's actually quite reassuring - there's a blissful sense of continuity.

2 - How did you come to short stories first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I've always loved reading short stories, and I'm adamant that you can't write anything that you don't read. I do read a lot of non-fiction for my day job, and wanted something that was completely different. As for poetry, I read and admire it. Short stories are very similar to poetry, in a sense. There's the same need for elegance and minimal fluff.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I can generally get started pretty quickly, but after that things start to slow down! I generally write 7-8 drafts of a piece before I know it's ready, and I've never felt comfortable rushing that. I don't take notes as such, but I do have a distinct roadmap in my head from the very first word I set down.

4 - Where does a short story usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
For me, my short stories tend to begin with a single visual image. I think consideration of setting is vital for a short story, because you're immersed in such a restricted world, and the setting definitely comes to me visually. When I'm writing a short story I don't have my eye on the end goal of a larger project / collection, because I think that risks detracting from the story itself.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love readings! I love doing them, and I love listening to others read. There's something about sharing your words with an audience right in front of you that can't be equalled.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

In Subjunctive Moods, many of the stories concern themselves with questions of identify and boundaries. These might be geographic or cultural, or even the internal boundaries we put up: the walls of the self. I think this is a relevant question beyond literature now. What makes us ourselves, and how can we grow beyond that?

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I think the role of a writer - or rather, the role of a book - is to encourage the reader to re-examine themselves. A book should teach you something, not necessarily in a didactic way, but in a way that illuminates knowledge you already had. I see the act of reading as very much a journey, and the writer and reader travel along it together.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Vital! Even if the editorial role is informal, it's essential to have somebody provide a more distant perspective on your book. My editor at Dahlia Publishing is wonderful, and we've both approached the stories from very similar angles. Nevertheless, she's been able to spot weaknesses in structure or style, and I've simply been too close to the work myself to have ever picked them out.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Read! I know this is a very common piece of advice, but it's the best I've ever heard. If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write. And if you don't have the inclination to read, then why do you want to write?

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I tend to wake early and get my writing done before the day starts. I'm a university lecturer - in a completely different discipline - and once the demands of teaching and research begin, that's my writing concentration broken for the day. In the evening I might do some light editing, but it's that silent morning hush when everyone else is asleep which is my most productive time.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I have some comfort-reading books that never fail to inspire me and give me back that determination to write. They're a bit of an eclectic collection - everything from 18th century sagas to modern stream-of-consciousness - and I have to choose the one to suit my mood.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Nature is a huge aspect of my work. A lot of my stories are set in rural or semi-rural settings, where the rhythm of life is tied inextricably to what's going on outside. There's a kind of purity to that. It's both freeing and constraining, and I've tried to reflect that in my works. And on a more prosaic note, when writers' block strikes, there's nothing like going for a long country hike to put it back in its place!

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There are some writers who've really influenced my life, if not my work. Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Salman Rushdie, Jane Gardam, Umberto Eco and A. L. Kennedy are some. These are writers who are able to take the world apart and put it back together in gorgeous, glowing phrases. I also think it's hugely important to read new writers: debut novelists and poets and short story writers. Reading a pile of new writers is like diving into a treasure box.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I'd love to learn to surf. I grew up by the beach and spent endless days swimming, but never got on a surfboard!

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
What a tricky question! I think if I hadn't turned to writing I'd have focused a lot more on my music. I play the violin and would never have had the talent to become a professional musician, but it might have been a lot of fun trying.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I was lucky! I started an evening course at my local university, City University, and had a fantastic tutor. One of the stories I wrote there went on to be shortlisted for a fairly prestigious prize, and that just got me hooked. They say you shouldn't write for external validation, but it's awfully nice when it does come.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book: The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai. It was published in 2006, but somehow I had never read it until just recently. It's a brilliant, sweeping story of family and politics.

The last great film: Dheepan. It deals with political refugees from Sri Lanka and is very, very illuminating.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I'm currently writing my novel, which is a story of a family in Malaysia. It's an exploration of how the history of the country has intertwined with, and impacted on, family and racial relationships.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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