By Walker Zupp
On November 6th Lancaster was lit up with fireworks, light installations and vivid, imaginative readings by Paul Magrs and George Green at North West Literary Salon.
Paul read from his new novel Lost on Mars and George read a sneak preview from his upcoming novel, which is set during the Spanish Civil War.
Paul is a Doctor Who fan and lover of Science Fiction. As he reads, he conveys a sense of meandering joy. There’s a talking tanning bed and a Nan with a robotic leg. It’s a book full of ideas and possibilities, where the past hurtles into the future. Little House on the Prairie set amongst the corroding dust of the red planet. As he reads he occasionally looks up, as if to visualize the story in his head. In the audience we sense it coming through: warmth, hope and the quiet excitement of a well-told story.
After the event I was lucky enough to catch up with George to chat with him about his work more detail. I’m hoping this will be the first of a series of interviews with the writers who read at the salon:
At a certain point in his life, George Green realised that he could not be both a pool guard and a Creative Writing Workshop tutor.
‘I was in sport and leisure. I did that for 15 years,’ he says over coffee.
‘You know, you get to a point where you think, oh no, I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life. So it was either creative writing or diving in at the deep end and saving blondes.’
This is our second attempt to meet up. There are two pubs in Lancaster with the word ‘Witch’ in the title. I went to The Pendle Witch and George went to The Water Witch. Not the best of starts.
In the end we settle for a café. I ask him if he hangs out with other writers, who smoke black cigarettes and drink black coffee – that type of crowd. He blinks and says, No.
‘But there’s a group called The Wild Women who do that.’ He has a swift drink of tea and continues, ‘I’m in a department of writers and people always ask me if we talk to each other. We do, but not about writing. And if we do, it’s pretty generic.’
‘What, like what type of paper you use?’
I think about his days as a pool guard. ‘So,’ I ask, ‘when did you know?’
‘That you were going to be a writer.’
When did I know?’ He laughs. Like, really laughs. I guess that’s all the answer I’m going to get.
With interests that spread from mythology to the Western, I ask George why he would decide to set a novel during the Spanish Civil War.
‘I told myself what I tell my students,’ he says, ‘You’re dying in three days. What do you want to write about? I had my Irish Book (Hound), so I figured I should have my Spanish Civil War.’
‘Do you prefer novellas or novels?’
‘I try to write novellas but I’m a bit like Stephen King, everything I write just grows and gets bigger, which is strange because I’m from the U.K. It’s hard to think of any thick British novels.’
‘I suppose. I think we’re much better at doing miniature though.’
I say that there’s probably a geographical factor in that.
‘There probably is,’ he replies, ‘America’s such a large country and it’s like their minds project outwards, you know, the great American novel. Whereas we look inwards – stuff like Jane Austen. We complain that they’re optimistic and they complain that we’re pessimistic. And we’re both right.’ He laughs.
We talk about Larry Heinemann, who wrote Paco’s Story, an excellent Vietnam War novel that George likes. Then we talk about Cuba. I went to Cuba a while ago.
‘I’d like to write about it,’ I tell him, ‘but I don’t think I’m ready.’
He laughs at this. He says that a friend of his went to Cuba expecting sunny beaches. But she ended up feeling the same way I did – like there was something dark under the surface. He tells me his friend became acquainted with the woman at the hotel desk. The woman asked her if she had any makeup. Being an obliging soul, she put all of her makeup in a bag and gave it to her as a present. The woman was so happy she cried.
Before I know it we run out of time.
‘Is that enough?’ he asks.
‘Yea, that should be fine,’
He tilts his cup, staring at the bottom, and says, ‘Just make it up,’ then ‘are you walking this way or that way?’
‘I’m walking that way.’
‘Good. I’m walking that way too.’
So we walk that way and up through a poster sale – pictures of Jimi Hendrix and The La’s and The Arctic Monkeys, men with moneyboxes and students with no money. No coffee to drink. We say goodbye and he walks away in to the rain.
Writing a Novel and Getting Published for Dummies by George Green