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Rory MacLean Interview

Posted on 20 December 2004. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to intrepid travel writer Rory MacLean, whose bestsellers have included Stalin's Nose and Under The Dragon. His latest book, "Falling for Icarus: A Journey among the Cretans" has just been published by Viking Penguin

Tell us about your writing background- what you've written, what you're currently writing

I've written five books, including best-sellers 'Stalin's Nose' and 'Under the Dragon'. According to the Financial Times my books have challenged and invigorated travel writing, and are, writes John Fowles, among works that 'marvellously explain why literature still lives'.

How, when and why did you first start writing?

I don't remember a time when I didn't write: short stories, school plays, student newspapers, home movies. For years I dreamed of being a film director. To that end I wrote dozens of scripts, following every trend, choosing 'saleable' subjects rather than stories that moved me. The result was a series of tame thrillers and busted blockbusters. But after each movie, to regain my sense of self, I took off travelling. And soon I realised that more than anything else I loved journeying into territory unknown (to me) and writing about the people and places met along the way.

What was your breakthrough moment?

In 1989 I submitted a story on Prague to the first 'Independent' newspaper travel writing competition and won. That lead to a commission to write a book on eastern Europe. Then Gorbachev was kind enough to knock down the Berlin Wall, making my subject highly topical. The resulting book, 'Stalin's Nose', made the UK top ten.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

Patrick Leigh Fermor his 'A Time of Gifts' is a fluent, exotic account of a youthful journey from London to Contantinople, published more than 40 years after the event. It is a book that makes everything seem possible. And Raymond Carver's short stories -- honest, direct, lean and adverb-free, each creation a triumph of minimalism which conjures extraordinary hope from the minutiae of ordinary lives. No word spare. Nothing wasted. Remarkable and poetic inventions.

What's the worst thing about writing?

The money. The numbers rarely add up for a first book. But if you're serious about writing then you just have to take the risk. I was lucky. After 'Stalin's Nose' the advances paid for my second and subsequent books has been enough to survive on.

And the best?

The freedom to choose.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

Al T at 12:37 on 20 December 2004  Report this post
Interesting interview, Rory. I like the sound of your next book. In early September 2001 in Taxila in Northern Pakistan (one of Alexander the Great's stopping points), I met a Belgian family who had travelled there overland in a yellow fire engine. Their mode of transport didn't appeal to me much, but I was so envious of their journey. But then everyone started fighting and borders were closed. I wonder what happened to them. Did you meet them, by any chance?


anisoara at 12:48 on 20 December 2004  Report this post
Thanks for an interesting, succinct, humorous and helpful interview.


Zigeroon at 14:51 on 07 January 2005  Report this post

Write. Write. Write. Right. Doing that bit right. Now for that bit of luck. Facinating insight into how hard work turns into what you want if you keep going.

Thanks for the advice and the inspiration to take up the keyboard once more!


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