5 Minutes with Lisa Owens

What was the last book you read?

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. It’s the sequel to one of my all-time favourites, Olive Kitteridge & I wholeheartedly recommend both.

What’s next on your reading list?

Essays by Lydia Davis. Her fiction has a unique tone that I love – sort of dry but curious – and I’m looking forward to seeing how that manifests itself in essay form.

Which writer would you have loved to have met and why?

John McGahern. His novels are transcendent – beautiful, quiet masterpieces, and I can only imagine he was in person as full of grace and insight as his writing.

You are stranded on a desert island. What three books would you want with you?

I think I’d have to go for the double whammy of physical & canonical heft in that situation. War & Peace, A Suitable Boy, Moby Dick.

Which is your favourite bookshop or e-bookstore and why?

The Broadway Bookshop is my local and they have a great range (with one bizarre & glaring exception – my book! – but now I think about it maybe it’s just forever selling out, that’s probably what’s going on there, demand is simply wildly outstripping supply, surely the only possible explanation.)

What would be the title of your autobiography?

Don’t Mind Me!!!: Notes from Under the Radar. It sums up the contradictory desire (in me & maybe many writers) to be sort of invisible yet also wanting people to read/watch & appreciate your work.

Which great novel have you tried to read but failed?

Oh Ulysses, several times. But I do follow the Ulysses Reader on Twitter (@UlyssesReader) & I love the way it throws up these incredible sentences amid all the politics and other noise – so actually, can I convincingly claim to have had the purest experience of reading Joyce in the 21st Century…?

What was your first job?

My first proper job was as an assistant at a literary agency. It involved a lot of grappling ineptly with office machinery in the presence of assorted literary heavyweights & their manuscripts. Inspiring & terrifying.

What is the silliest thing you have on your desk?

I usually write at the kitchen table, so it’s some combination of: abandoned toast crusts / wind up plastic unicorn / purple crayon (I have young kids)

 What distracts you from writing?

The Internet, obviously, Twitter especially, but I do think (/have to believe!) that something about it – the continuous exposure to ideas and images – might in an oblique way be a key part of my writing process, so I try not to feel too guilty about it.

What was the first book that made you cry?

The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen.  Still reeling.

What are the most common traps for aspiring writers?

Feeling shackled to an idea of what you ‘should’ be writing, or trying to write specifically for a perceived market.

In my experience, the book chooses you, so you just have to go with whatever it is that most preoccupies you– the stuff that is always tugging at your sleeve and begging for attention despite your best efforts to ignore it.

What was your favourite childhood book?

I feel a bit sheepish saying Little Women as it feels like such a cliché – but what an incredible legacy for one book, to continue engaging and inspiring young readers & writers 150 years later.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

Since having children, writing has become much more of a challenge logistically and creatively, and my ‘schedule’ is best described as scattershot. For me the issue is not only finding the actual time, but also the headspace to write.

In her book Motherhood, Sheila Heti talks about ‘accessing infinity’ while writing. I love this idea & try to keep it in mind, whether I have one hour or six – to locate the mental space where total absorption is possible, however long you have in ‘real time’.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Take notes. Even the most incidental-seeming fragment of overheard conversation or observation can spark something, especially when you come back to it months later and can’t remember exactly where it came from.

Do you have a favourite book adaptation you would recommend?

Lukas Moodysson’s film We Are the Best, which was adapted from (his wife) Coco Moodysson’s graphic novel called Never Goodnight. It’s about three Swedish teenage girls starting a punk band –it’s wonderful.  And while I’m here, it feels remiss not to mention Emma Thompson’s perfect adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. At last, some recognition for this obscure & misunderstood gem!

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