In anticipation of Emma’s debut memoir Something To Be Tiptoed Around our social media and marketing team sat down with the emerging writer to probe into the inspiration for such a touching and artful experimental piece.
- What prompted you to write a memoir?
Something happened and my memory got snagged on it. I mean my sister dying. I think it’s probably normal to want to make something out of what you’ve lost. Anyway I couldn’t stop going back to it, in my thoughts or in my work. It was basically a purge.
- Something To Be Tiptoed Around is a complex work that defies easy categorisation: how would you describe it to a reader?
With difficulty! I think it’s a book about sadness. It’s a book about being young, so being allowed to be kind of selfish, which means it’s also a book about self.
- Early in the work, you quote Hélène Cixous on the displacement of the female voice in mainstream fiction and criticism. Is your writing approach a direct attempt to foreground the feminine?
No, but it is an attempt to dismantle the masculine, and in doing so, to negate the binary that pits the feminine against the masculine in the first place.
- Did the intimate personal focus of Something To Be Tiptoed Around make this a difficult piece to put into the public sphere?
I spent most of my early career writing about my private life for money, so I didn’t feel too phased by putting this work into the public sphere. It did feel like there was a risk of betraying my family, in the sense that this loss happened to us, as a collective. But I knew that I was writing about my grief, mine alone, and not my family’s. It was important to me not to write on behalf of anyone else. In that sense, this book is as personal as my older work, but more self-focused.
- What other works – across any genre – influenced or inspired Something to Be Tiptoed Around?
At the time of writing, in 2015, I was reading a lot of Chris Kraus. Kate Zambreno’s Green Girl introduced me to the idea of an author playing an active role in the narrative, and openly manipulating her protagonist. That really helped to shape the authorial relationship I have with Jeannie.
- There is a constant tension in this work between fiction and non-fiction – between the private and the cultural – between ‘Jeannie’ and you. What is the importance of blurring these boundaries?
Grief was like that, that’s the obvious metaphor, experiencing grief was a chaos without boundaries. But also I felt like the binaries created by those boundaries were stupid and arbitrary. Why would things be so organised? Nothing real is ever organised.
- There are references to Greek mythology throughout the piece: how did this resonate with your personal experience?
Personally, I’ve never visited the underworld or turned anyone to stone with my eyes, but I would enjoy doing both. The Greek myths are so deeply foundational to Western storytelling and literary tradition. I wanted to absorb it. The poor women of the Greek myths—the women who turned the narrative tropes upside down by not doing what they were supposed to. They seemed like good people.
- Given your approach here and the rise of experimental forms of writing, do you think concepts like genre or medium still have any relevance?
Of course, it’s human nature to classify things. Experimental writing is a genre. Anyway genre is fun. I love to try and notice it, to stay inside its limits, and to turn it inside out. All of my favourite writers are very accomplished at doing these things.
Thank you to David Churack for the provoking and insightful questions.