Margot Livesey Q-and-A Part I:
How 'The Boy in the Field' Came to Be

Margot Livesey - author of nine novels, esteemed professor at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, beloved mentor to writers around the globe - will be my guest at Writers in Conversation on Monday March 15, the reading series I run at the University of Southampton's English department

I interviewed Margot recently, and so, to entice readers and writers to our online Writers in Conversation,  I'm going to include a few answers every other day or so, until the night itself.  Do join us on Monday 15 March 7:30 pm London/2:30 om ET. 

Carole Burns The Boy in the Field feels completely apropos to our times: a novel that explores the aftermath of three young people confronted with the reality of violence, after they step in and help a stranger who has been attacked. How did the story begin for you?

Margot Livesey A few years ago an old acquaintance got in touch after several decades; we’d attended the same school in Scotland.  I had lunch with him and his wife in New York. He told me that as a teenager he’d wanted to be a doctor, but one afternoon he had come home from school to his tiny village - a place where no one locked their doors - and in his garden found the body of a young woman.  She had been murdered, it turned out later, by her boyfriend.

Those few seconds changed his life. He gave up on studying medicine and, after several false starts, found his way into a very different profession.  What stayed with me was not so much the awful crime but the way he talked about that fault line in his life; it was something I knew I wanted to write about.  By fault line I mean one of those moments that profoundly change a life.  A person looks like they're going from A to B, along with their friends and family; suddenly they head off to G. I am one of those fault-line people.  Everyone I grew up with lives in the UK; I teach and mostly live in the US.

I also liked the idea of writing about young people and their moral clarity. Greta Thunberg wasn't around when I started writing the novel, but she became a rising presence.  People often forget how much teenagers know.

Carole Burns You could have centered a story around the effects of violence on one person, but you expanded the story to feature three characters. It seems like a really wise choice.

Margot Livesey I always knew that the origin story was not the story I wanted to tell.  I've read too many books which begin with something terrible happening to a woman and I didn’t want to add to their number unless it was unavoidable.  I also wanted to write about the way in which members of a family can live under the same roof and yet see the world very differently.

Carole Burns  At the same time, the novel also features elements of a mystery story.

Margot Livesey I wanted the opening to be a version of a British detective story …  a field, someone injured.  I liked the idea of having a crime in the background, with a real detective working to solve it, while in the foreground would be Matthew, Zoe and Duncan, each on their own quest.  I read an interview with a writer of detective novels - I think it was Louise Walsh - and she said one reason detective novels are so popular is because the detective goes into the Valley of Shadow and brings back order. I found that idea very helpful in thinking about the genre, and also in departing from the genre.

 Set a reminder for our talk on Monday 15 March, so you can ask Margot questions, too.

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