Kate Middleton Interviews Alison Croggon

By and | 23 September 2001

KM: Now some more on the nuts and bolts kind of questions. How do you write? Do you have rituals, or writing times, things you go through to get yourself in the right frame of mind to work?

AC: Well, this is a very messy business. I live with a writer, and we both have separate areas of the house, and we have a life where the only structure in it has to do with the children. I mean, they have to be fed, and dressed, and sent to school, and things like that. So that's quite good for us really, the routine that surrounds that. As for the rest of it, because our days are busy, they're not very predictable, so it's hard to have a ritual. When I'm writing a long prose work – I wrote my popular novel (I hope it'll be popular!) – I did that by writing 2000 words a day, and just doing that every day, and that's all I thought about. It didn't matter what the words were. That's the only way I can write prose: to just set a completely arbitrary goal, and then stick to it. I became obsessed with word counts, and every day I would write in my diary what my word count was that day, and felt very satisfied if I'd gone past it. All that kind of stuff. You invent structures, I suppose. Poetry I only write when I absolutely have to, when I can't ignore the impulse. That's a decision I made about a year ago. So I write poetry less frequently.

KM: In an interview with John Kinsella, you once said, 'Lately I have begun to recognise myself in poetry, which makes me feel incredibly bored and frustrated with my work. I don't want to see me there.' John Ashbery once expressed a similar concern, about falling back on a familiar vocabulary in order to keep writing, something he described as using 'Ashberyisms' – do you find yourself falling into 'Croggonisms', and if so, how do you overcome them?

AC: You get rid of them! It's true, it's really awful to see them, and it's actually what Daniel calls them: 'That's a Croggonism'. I don't like it at all – that's when I hate writing, when it just sort of stinks of yourself. I suppose the first step is just recognising it, and the rest is whatever violent move you make away from yourself. And I tend to make violent oscillations in my work- I'll do something else, or stop writing.

KM: Many female writers have commented on the way writing seems to be split into 'boys topics' and 'girls topics', and how it's the male writing that gets more attention, is considered intrinsically more important, more serious. As someone who has written about topics considered to be part of the women's topics (eg domestic tasks, childbirth etc.) is this a prejudice you have encountered?

AC: I was having a long conversation about this last night. Daniel is coming at it from the other end, because he feels just as trapped by male stereotypes as I do by female stereotypes. Or am I trapped? I'm actually not that trapped but you still encounter them, still crash into them. As far as my work goes, you can hear responses where people say, 'That's boring, that's sentimental, that's not very important, that's not intelligent,' simply because of the subject, and that sort of thing really gets up my nose. I suppose especially if I feel that what I've written is intelligent, and is said intelligently. I get two kinds of criticisms, often about the same work: one criticism is 'Too intellectual', and another is 'Too emotional', which maybe is a healthy sign. It's as if when something is emotional and full of feeling, then it can't be intelligent, or if it's intelligent, then it can't have feeling. But I personally would like to do both at once That's what I try to do. I think I was scarred forever by once being introduced as 'a poet of love and motherhood', I thought 'Oh no, no!' At the time I was taking conventional, supposedly masculine literary tropes, and using them to write about other things, female things. I was trying to destabilise both categorisations. But you still find yourself trapped, categorised. It's a constant dilemma. If you have any kind of feminist belief, I suppose, you find yourself banging into these walls all the time. One way out is to just ignore them, to just write anyway, to take the risk of making a fool of yourself.

KM: You mentioned that you are currently working on four different projects. Could you talk briefly about them?

AC: One of them is The Gift, this novel for young people, which has been such fun. It's an adventure story, and it's wonderful not to be thinking all the time about the meaning of life, what language is, whatever. Another is actually a story I'm writing for my daughter, who's eleven, which I write for her bedtime. So that's for even younger readers, and that's also been fun. The third prose work is that novel I mentioned, The Gilded Man, which is of another order altogether. That so far is a pretty anarchic work, and I don't have any idea where that's going but I have every intention of finishing it one day. I'm allowing myself five years on that one, because it requires an enormous amount of reading. I don't know how long it's going to be. I'm thinking about 100,000 words. We'll see what happens when I get there. I want to talk about things like gender and colonialisation and perception and the self, the creation and destruction of soul – not just in South America in the 1500s but now. I'm not interested in writing a historical novel. It's running off in all kinds of unexpected directions. I suppose the kind of model that I'm taking for it, though it's nothing like it, is something like Tristam Shandy. It might of course be a total mess. And the other thing is a long poem, which I've been working on for the last couple of months, which just pops up from time to time.

KM: What form is that – a narrative poem, a sequence?

AC: It's a sequence. It's not a narrative poem. I don't write narrative poems. I have a very slender interest in narrative as such. It's more what you can do around ideas that interest me. I don't know where that's going – it doesn't have a title, which is kind of telling. I don't know what it is yet.

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