By Jamilah Ahmed
At our last Literary Salon on March 20th, we were privileged to listen to Maggie Gee, who read from her latest novel, the subversive and hilarious BLOOD.
The theme at the centre of this book is what Maggie termed ‘one of the last taboos’ in a liberal democracy: the killing of The Father. This is explored via a protagonist who fiercely loves her siblings, and the children she teaches.
In their discussion, Catherine said she thought of Monica as ‘extra-real’, she is almost mythological in her strength and individuality. Maggie enjoyed writing her, living her alter-ego life and being as funny as she wanted to be.
Monica sounds like a character almost too challenging to like, but she acts with grace and love and in this way wins over the reader. Maggie explained her character: Monica gets up every morning and tries not to be a maniac; she doesn’t want to be violent or like her father, but society doesn’t help her. There was a brief discussion about Brexit Britain, as in one scene Monica calls out the racism she sees. It’s interesting how in ‘polite society’ this topic is often handled so gingerly, not something you can accuse Monica of however!
It made me think how often we might look away, because to call it out makes us look manic or aggressive, however honourable the intention. Monica is not constrained by such concerns and there is an honesty and bravery to that.
There followed a discussion about what bravery is, and Maggie concluded that there is no point not doing the thing you want to do; therefore it doesn’t feel courageous, it’s doing what you want. My notes don’t show if this was in relation to calling out racism, or writing what a publisher doesn’t want, but they are fine words to hold onto either way!
She was asked about ‘relatability’ and although it isn’t something she overly worries about, Maggie decided that Monica had to carry out a heroic act, to balance the actions that are not.
It’s too irresistible – you can’t not ask such a prolific and renowned writer for a tip or two, and Maggie said she always needs the ending written first, and uses daily and weekly word-counts to spur herself on. She doesn’t think about genre though. In fact critics have called BLOOD a ‘mash-up’ of genres, to which Maggie said:
‘you don’t think about genre, you’re thinking about what tells the story!’
It was a wonderful conversation, lots of laughter and nodding from our audience, and ended with the comment ‘humour isn’t shallow, it’s chaos at its best!’