I remember Paul Magrs’ first novel being published just when I’d moved to London to follow my literary aspirations. He struck me as a vibrant, vital writer – and still does. Since his early magical realist books, he’s written space operas, comedy, YA novels, memoir and more. This quote from a lovely interview by William Shaw I read captures Paul’s approach to his writing life:
What attracts Magrs to this kind of genre play? “It’s completely natural. I could never colour inside the lines when I was a kid – it’s the same thing. Of course received wisdom is that it’s a difficult thing to do, and a difficult thing for people to sell. But I couldn’t write a conventional take on any genre. It’d be pointless. There’s lots of people writing conventional stuff.”
- What was the first book you wrote?
Does it Show? – exactly twenty-five years ago, on my MA course in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. It would be my second published novel, in 1997, by Chatto and Windus. It’s set on the same north-eastern council estate as my other early books, and features a cast of trans women, teens with telekinetic powers, young mothers with toddlers, sexy gay men and various Goths. It caused numerous kerfuffles amongst more staid members of our workshop group. It got some nice reviews in the press and some awful things were said to the author by people who didn’t think that the literary novel was where characters as working class as mine ought to be found …
- For which book would you like to be remembered?
Maybe The Story of Fester Cat, which Penguin US published in 2014. It’s the story of my adult life seen through the eyes of the beloved Fester Cat, a stray whose death prompted the writing of the book.
- Is there a book you abandoned partway through?
Many! There are always shadow books between the books that eventually make it. Some are a handful of pages long, some make it to an ending and then have to be smothered. Or they get smothered. I had an agent a number of years ago who carelessly, clumsily put a couple of my still-fledging ideas to death. You have to really trust someone to show them work early.
- Is there a book you know you’ll never write?
Not sure about that. Never say never. I hope I never write the conventional, easy-sell book that various publishers and agents have wanted me to write. The ones where they tell you: ‘Make it read like X’ (where X is something recent and bestselling.)
- Which book do you believe should have fared better?
All of them!
- Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions to a particular book?
I was about to say some of the awful homophobic reactions I got about Strange Boy – back in 2002, when I put a gay protagonist in a kids’ book – before such things were commonplace. But these weren’t readers’ reactions. They were reactions from people who had very definitely not read the book. They’d been stirred up by my then publisher’s somewhat ill-advised, bigot-baiting publicity campaign.
- What book do you wish you’d written?
Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler – one of my all-time favourites. A writer at the height of her confidence and abilities, I think, and the distillation of everything good that she does. When I say I’d have liked to have written it – I just mean I would love to write something in my own world that holds together so beautifully.
- What are you writing now?
I’ve recently finished a big novel – a frothy romcom set in south Manchester – which I need to find a suitable publisher for, and I’m about to write the third book in my science fiction trilogy for Firefly Press, Heart of Mars.