Joan Hanna: We were so excited to have your Short “The Knock Down” in our October Issue. Can you share with our readers a little about your writing process?
Margot Taylor: I try to write most days – just like with physical exercise it gets harder the longer I go without doing it. Even so, facing the blank page, I often have to tell myself it’s okay to write badly, much better than not writing at all, and I can always bin the result. Then I usually write quickly and without thinking too much about it. If I find I have something I like I’ll do an edit, put the piece aside, revise it again, sometimes many times, far too many times, so that the revision stage also becomes a sticking point for me! Despite all this I love writing, especially when it’s going well.
JH: Can you talk a little about how this story came about?
MT: I wrote it for one of Zoetrope’s weekly Flash Factory gigs. The challenge was to write a story in less than 500 words to include the words ‘blood orange, wend, frosted, guppies and raw’. ‘Wend’ made me think of rivers. We’d just come back from a sailing holiday in which we’d spent a lot of time up rivers or tied up in port as the wind had been so strong. One day a small sailing boat came in with a young couple on board who were very shaken, having had a knock-down out at sea. Despite being cautious sailors my husband and I talk about setting off one day across the Atlantic. So the story is based on our sailing experiences and dreams, but the prompt words forced me to take that imaginative leap away from telling it exactly as it happened. All the prompt words ended up in the fantasy blogging section, although I later edited out one or two.
JH: I was so fascinated that this story is as much about disintegration as it is about acceptance. Can you go into a little more detail about this couple?
MT: Sarah had a wrong idea about the sort of person her husband was. He too had a wrong idea about who he was. It’s tough when you realize that your personality may limit what you can achieve, so John’s the one I feel for more. However, I was writing from Sarah’s point of view, and she copes with her disappointment in him by creating a fictional version of their life together. It’s not the most honest coping strategy, but we all reassure ourselves with partial truths, mini-fictions about our lives, about who we are or were or might still be. I get the feeling she’s really quite happy living on a boat up a river as long as she can keep up the pretense to everyone at home that she’s crossing oceans.
JH: Please include any links to your website, other publications or other links you would like to share with our readers.
MT: I have another sailing story at www.pulp.net. I find the online writing forum Zoetrope Virtual Studios very helpful as a place to post stories and get feedback, also just as a place where people chat about writing.
JH: Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss your writing process and your story. Can you answer one final question? Can you discuss what recovery means to you?
MT: For me at the moment recovery will mean starting to write again. Recently we had our old dog put down. When I started looking for a replacement the search for the right puppy obsessed me, and our new puppy, now she’s arrived, obsesses me. There’s a story about Philip Roth, how he was given a kitten to look after and he played with it all the time and didn’t do any writing, and so he gave the kitten back after a day or two. I’m not planning to give the puppy back! All I’m doing each day is tugging on tuggy toys and cleaning up little accidents and reading dog training manuals and trying to make sure she gets lots of experience of life while she’s still young – she’s been on buses and trains and, of course, our boat. Maybe having to concentrate for long enough to answer these questions will be the start of getting my life back. Recovery after a true crisis, personal or international, is a similar process. At first all normal activities are suspended, then, as you adapt to the changed circumstances or the crisis starts to resolve, one by one they get added back in.
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Jolly good, Margot – both the story and the interview. When you have exhausted Midge perhaps we can have another story!