New Zealander Emily Perkins is the author of Novel About My Wife (2008).
Why I write
Probably I started because I loved reading, sort of lived my childhood in books, and it was natural then to want to engage with the world through writing too. Now it’s the same, a way of living.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
I write most days, not every day. Some days I teach or we have a studio day for the book program I host for TV, and then I can’t really write. Four or five hours at a time is about it.
Worst source of distraction?
No one thing – if it’s available I’ll find it. I’ve been using an office without Internet access and that’s great. Also there’s no fridge full of food, no children to talk to about their school day, no other books lying around.
Best source of inspiration?
Recently an essay, a strange-shaped plant, spring light, desire, getting older and an exasperation with endings.
How often do you get writers’ block / doubt your own ability?
Pretty frequently, for short periods. Lately not so much. I don’t mind it, doubt is useful, a good thing in creative practice. But just because you’re suffering doesn’t mean the work is going to be genius, and just because it’s flying out of you doesn’t mean it’s inspired – even before redrafting, the work has a funny way of being separate from the moment of composition. Although I do believe a sense of fun – joy – can shine through.
Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
I’m not so fixed on particular authors that I’ll read everything they write, and there are so many I love! This question sends me into a white noise tunnel where I panic that I won’t remember the key writers I really value. Help. If you haven’t read Geoff Dyer, do. George Saunders’ stories are amazing. I love Denise Riley’s poetry, and the NZ poet Bill Manhire, and the late Janet Frame and David Ballantyne, recently re-published. I’ve been re-reading Iris Murdoch and that’s always a new experience.
Favorite Chinese writer? Best book about China?
I’m horribly ignorant about Chinese literature. Am hoping the trip to Shanghai will open a path into it for me.
No one favorite, but I love Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which imagines the story of Mr Rochester’s wife before she comes to England. It’s full of beauty and it’s political in the best way fiction can be.
Whoever wrote the book I am reading and loving in the moment.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
Should’s a strong word. There are lots of books I’m looking forward to reading. Probably The Bible. I’m reading R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis Illustrated at the moment and it’s brilliantly weird and intense.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
It was a story called ‘Not Her Real Name’ and I did look at it a while ago, for the first time in years. I was pleased and embarrassed in about equal measure. It felt like someone else had written it, in a good way.
Does writing change anything?
Yes, reading a book changes you.