Malcolm Burgess Interview
Posted on 18 August 2006. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
Writewords talks to Malcolm Burgess, who writes for radio, newspapers and has a new non-fiction book out on September 7, 500 Reasons Why I Hate The Office
Tell us something about your background.
Iíve written funny series and features for newspapers and magazines for years Ė as well as doing either a part-time or full-time day job. Recently Iíve started writing for radio and had a comedy, Fear and Loathing in Crouch End Ė the story of eighteen year old Estonian au pair Monika Kass and the dysfunctional North London family she works for - on Radio 4 at Christmas. Weíre now working on a sequel and Iím hoping it will also work as a book. My 500 Reasons Why I Hate The Office book comes out on September 7 from Icon, based on recent Metro and Times newspaper series about office life. Thereís a section on working from home based on my own writing experience and I hope it rings true with other writers! Iíve just been commissioned to write another Ďfunnyí book for my publisher and expect to be working on this over the next six months, as well as pitching more Ďone-offí radio comedy ideas and thereís possibly another newspaper series in the pipeline too. It would be good if Fear and Loathing gets taken in book form. Iím sure Iíll find the time, donít worry!
I work as a literature manager for a local authority which includes running a big book festival. I meet many brilliant creative writing tutors and just know that Iíd be terrible.
How did you start writing?
I had quite a hot-house academic education and like many people in this situation felt too intimidated to write. It was only when I left university and ended up in an awful ad agency writing copy for supermarket chickens and air conditioning units that I started writing poetry, which then became funny pieces for magazines and newspapers.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
There are so many itís an impossible question. Professionally speaking there are lots of comic writers Iíve always found inspiring from Mark Twain and James Thurber to Dorothy Parker and Stella Gibbons. I do like a bit of bite and edge and of course brilliant comic timing! Other writers that I try to read everything they produce include the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro and the Californian novelist and journalist Joan Didion. I just love their voices Ė I think voice and tone is so important in writing and lets you know youíre in capable hands. My own writing territory is a million miles from these two but I literally canít put them down.
How did you get your first agent/ commission?
My first published piece was in the womenís magazine Over 21 and, boy, was I excited Ė especially as the edition included Margaret Atwood. I got my first agent last year.
What's the worst thing about writing?
Running out of black Bic fine point biros and having to write with the stubby one you were sent by the RSBP.
And the best?
Just feeling youíve done your very best. There are few other areas where the sense of personal achievement is so overwhelming.
Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.
Iíve tended to just get feedback from editors Ė if itís good you may get commissioned for another series. But a recent office series in The Times apparently got more responses from pissed off secretaries than any other series theyíd run. Oh, and I wrote a funny series about people in publishing and remember seeing one entry pinned on someoneís notice board and this gave me great pleasure. It obviously gives you more confidence and makes you feel you must be doing something right but I donít think itís ever affected the way I write
What was your breakthrough moment?
Everything you achieve is a bit of a breakthrough in one way or another. I think in writing you also have to be a bit philosophical Ė er, what goes up can go down.
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