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Dark Places and Dangerous Human Beings: An Interview with Australian Novelist Emily Maguire

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Emily Maguire divides her time between teaching English and writing. Her articles on sex, religion, culture and literature have been published in newspapers and magazines that include The Observer, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Financial Review. Her first novel, Taming the Beast, has been translated into ten languages.

In 2006, the novel received a special commendation in the Kathleen Mitchell Awards. In the same year, the novel was also placed on the EDS Dylan Thomas Prize for Fiction longlist.

Emily Maguire spoke about some of the things that motivate her as a writer.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I've always written, but I decided I'd try to make a career of it only after working in crushingly boring office jobs for a number of years.

What would you say are your main concerns as a writer?

I'm interested in challenging people's moral assumptions. Most people absorb certain ideas as children and never question or investigate them, so we have a society filled with adults whose ideas about sex, religion and moral responsibility remain at seventh grade level.

I'm influenced by writers who manage to write about deeply serious subjects without becoming preachy or overly-somber. Graham Greene, Nadine Gordimer, A.L. Kennedy and Mary Gaitskill have all been important to my development as a writer.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

It can be hard to go to really dark places in my writing sometimes. I was raised to be nice and pleasant and make everybody feel comfortable; it can be very difficult to ignore that upbringing.

I'm learning that I can't control people's reactions and if I try to, I will never write anything interesting.

I've accepted that some people are going to think I am my characters, no matter how much I deny this. And some who believe that I am not my characters will consider me a corrupt and possibly dangerous human being for having invented this stuff.

What is your novel about?

Taming the Beast tells the story of Sarah Clark, a clever but damaged young woman who is drawn into a violent love affair with the teacher who abused her as a teenager.

Daniel Carr leaves her bloody and bruised after every meeting, but despite the protestations of her best friend and sometime lover, Jamie Wilkes, Sarah is adamant that Daniel is the love of her life. She sees his monstrousness as a challenge and believes she is strong enough to "tame the beast."

The novel's chief concerns are sexual politics, transgressive relationships and what it means to love someone who damages you body and soul.

Taming the Beast attempts to overturn modern expectations of twenty-something relationships and female desire, while seriously challenging the contemporary paradigm that real love is healthy and nourishing.

How long did it take you to write it?

A couple of years. I was working full-time in an office, so I wrote it mostly during the insomniac hours.

It was first published in Australia in 2004 and then published in the U.K. in 2005. The U.S. edition has just been released this month [September].

Which aspects of the work that you put into the novel did you find most difficult?

Cutting was the hardest thing. I started with a manuscript almost three times the length of the final book. Throwing out chapters, pages, plot lines and characters in order to produce the novel was very, very difficult. But very necessary.

Which did you enjoy most?

I just love to write. I love that I can sit down at my computer with my head full of real-life stuff and 10 or 20 minutes [later] I am just gone.

Taming the Beast has a very dark view of human nature. My subsequent novel and my non-fiction are a touch more positive about human motivation and behavior.

My fiction is always about challenging the accepted ideas about what is right and good. Taming the Beast fits with my obsession about questioning mainstream morals and mores.

Which themes will you be exploring in is your next book?

My second novel, The Gospel According to Luke, is about religious terrorism, belief, family, grief and hope.

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About Ambrose Musiyiwa

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Nice interview, very quotable.

  • Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!