How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?
All three of my plays, my last novel and the one I’m now writing feature real historical figures. This involves tracking down their haunts and spending days trawling through records in libraries, archives and online. Each small discovery is a thrill, as is the creative alchemy that turns these disconnected fragments into living, breathing characters.
Writing is like daydreaming with a keyboard, followed by hours of painstaking technical refinement – and that, too, has its pleasures.
What was your first ever job?
If you don’t count teenage waitressing and shopwork, it was reporting for a small-town evening newspaper. Crime, fires, strikes, courts, “human interest”: I did it all. I loved the inky glamour of hanging around in bars sniffing out stories, meeting all kinds and classes of people, walking into situations I’d never have experienced otherwise. It’s still providing me with material as a writer.
Has there been a particular person or an opportunity that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
Getting dumped by my boyfriend in my final year at university. Feeling guilty, he fixed me up with a temporary (and it emerged, unpaid) job as Bill Buford’s gofer on Granta magazine. Many years later, working at Scotland on Sunday, I answered a colleague’s phone and recognised Bill’s voice. Was I writing anything? Could he see it? He passed the manuscript on to a literary agent he knew. In due course, my first novel was published by Secker and Warburg.
More recently, I’ve learned a huge amount about theatre from working with Muriel Romanes to develop my script, Cat and Mouse.
What do you like the best about working within theatre?
I love the way working with actors challenges you as a writer, the endless attention to detail they bring to a role. What is X feeling here? Why does he say this? It’s exciting when an actor takes your words and finds the exact tone of voice to bring out the humour/pathos/ambivalence etc of the line. Even more of a thrill when s/he finds a nuance in the line that you didn’t intend yet is absolutely right for that character.
What has been your favourite theatre production and why?
Watching Ian Richardson play Richard II for the RSC when I was 13 launched a lifelong love affair with Shakespeare’s language. I was impressed by the mash-up of Christopher Marlowe’s 16th century text and YBA hipsterdom in Hampstead Theatre’s Faustus (2006). The extraordinary use of water in the set helped make Dundee Rep’s Further than the Furthest Thing (2012) utterly spellbinding. But if I could only see one production again it would be Theatre de Complicite’s Street of Crocodiles (1992). Books turned into flocks of birds, characters walked down walls, and tears ran down my face.
What advice would you give emerging female writers in the arts today?
1) say yes to every offer and give each project everything you’ve got. One opportunity often leads to another. Luck plays a huge part in any writing career – but you have to make the most of that luck when it comes your way.
2) cultivate a trusted circle of readers who will give you honest feedback before you send your writing out into the world.
Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
Muriel Romanes has already been Quine of the Month, but if anyone deserves two shots at it, it’s Muriel. Ever open to new voices, immensely experienced, generous, collaborative, ingenious, inspired: a theatre maker to her very bones.
Ajay Close has a new novel Trust out now published byTippermuir Books Limited