Featured Writer: Miranda Ward

1. You just wrote your first book, F**k the Radio, We’ve Got Apple Juice: Essays on a Rock n’ Roll Band. Can you tell me a little about it, and your process in writing and publishing it?

The book is ostensibly about music and musicians, but really it’s about trying to make a living doing something you love, or trying to find a way to strike a balance between making a living and doing what you love.

It uses the story of a band called Little Fish, who are friends of mine, as a sort of central narrative–they were signed to a big record label, but they decided to leave the label and strike out on their own, and it was interesting for me to hear about a) their experience in the music industry, and b) their experience as an independent band trying to make music their living. I’d just gone freelance when I started writing the book, so I very much felt the parallels between their situation and mine–we talked a lot about redefining success, trying to figure out what “making a living” actually means, and so on.

The process of writing it was interesting, because it was quite a collaborative project. I worked closely with the band, interviewing them, chatting informally, following them around to meetings and gigs, and I also solicited input from other people–musicians, industry types, fans. I’ve actually included full transcripts of a few of the interviews in the book. But there came a certain point where I just had to sit down and write, which was not something that anybody else could really help me with. I was simultaneously surprised by how much of a struggle I found it and gratified by how much I ultimately enjoyed the process.

In terms of publishing: our publisher, Unbound, is fairly unusual–they do everything a traditional publisher does, but all of their books are crowdfunded. So before the book had been published (before it’d even been written), we basically had to make sure there was an audience for it. Which is great, in a lot of ways, and it made particular sense for this project, which is in part about how artists are using community and technology to find alternative ways of building a life for themselves. But I think it helped that I was working with a band who already had a base of fans and supporters.

Miranda’s book trailer:

2. You’re currently doing a PhD in geography. How do you navigate blogging, writing essays, and academia? What kind of relationship do these things have for you?

This is a great question, to which I’m not sure I have an answer yet. I’m only in the first year of the PhD, so I suspect I still have a lot to learn about the weird world of academia. But my sense so far is: there’s definitely a potential tension between the two worlds, but it isn’t inevitable or necessary, at least not always. Cultural geography is quite an interdisciplinary subject, which I think helps.

On a personal level, I definitely struggle with trying to work out how much of my “writer” self to let overlap with my “academic self,” and vice versa–even in really mundane, stupid ways, like, when I post things on Twitter, I have a moment where I wonder, am I doing this as an academic or a writer or just a girl sitting in the pub with her boyfriend, Instagramming of her burger? Do they have to be three totally separate people, or is there room for them to comfortably and publicly overlap? I don’t always know how to present myself; I don’t really want to lead a double life.

But ultimately my hope is that being an academic makes me a better writer, and being a writer makes me a better academic. Already, for instance, I can see how doing the PhD is influencing the way I write essays or blog posts (or emails, for that matter)–I think more carefully about the weight of individual words now, am more concerned with specificity, which I think is a good thing. And a lot of what I read in an academic context is relevant to my writing in a non-academic context, and vice versa. But like I said: it’s still early days!

3. How does living abroad affect your writing?

I like being an outsider. No matter how at home I feel here, I can always claim a kind of immunity or ignorance because I’m not from here, which I think makes writing easier. And I’m hesitant to use the word “inspired,” but I’ve been enormously…motivated, maybe, to write about my surroundings here in a way I haven’t always been in the US. I think it’s a form of making a home, of coming to understand a place.

4. Can you share one moment of utter writing despair, and one breakthrough moment?

I have a moment of mild writing despair every time I begin a new project, however small: it seems so unlikely that an empty document can ever become anything else! But yes–there was a point while I was writing the book where I’d set myself a wildly unrealistic deadline, and I knew I wasn’t going to make it, and I’d sent a chapter to my partner to read, and he’d said something like, “this is great, but I feel like you have more to say,” which was meant to be encouraging. And I stood there in our living room, screaming, “I have nothing else to say!” at him, and it seemed fairly improbable in that moment that I would ever have anything approaching a first draft, let alone a final one, let alone a book.

A breakthrough moment must have subsequently occurred, since I did finish the book after all, but I’m not sure it was one single moment. I was always toeing the line between euphoria and despair, and eventually I found that as long as I didn’t stray too far into either realm, I could work fairly steadily.

5. What are you reading at the moment, and what writers have most influenced your work?

I’m always reading way too many books concurrently! At the moment, these are all on my bedside table or my desk or in my handbag, in various stages of being read: Freedom (Jonathan Franzen), The Old Ways (Robert Macfarlane), The Dud Avocado (Elaine Dundy), The Haraway Reader (Donna Haraway), Burning Chrome (William Gibson), Paradoxical Undressing (Kristin Hersh).

Hard to say what writers have influenced my work. I think emotionally at least I’ve been more affected by individual books, and often for largely circumstantial reasons–Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, for instance, had an enormous impact on me as a teenager. When I was about twelve or thirteen I read a book called The Great Ideas by Suzanne Cleminshaw, which I think might be out of print in the US now, but it’s a wonderful book, and I used to re-read it regularly (I still have a copy near my desk, though I haven’t looked at it recently).

More generally, I admire, for various reasons, the writing of Pico Iyer, Geoff Dyer, Paul Auster, Margaret Drabble, Rebecca Solnit, and the poetry of Louis MacNeice and Sharon Olds. (I could do this all afternoon, but I think I’ll leave it at that…)

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Read Miranda’s essay for Vela, “The Purest Form of Play.”

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