Twelve Questions

Sarah Daniell poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Greg McGee

By Sarah Daniell

Greg McGee enjoyed the anonymity of a female pseudonym. Picture / Derek Flynn
Greg McGee enjoyed the anonymity of a female pseudonym. Picture / Derek Flynn

Greg McGee is the author of The Open Side, the biography of All Black captain Richie McCaw. He is also a literary gender bender: McGee has been at the Frankfurt Book Fair promoting Cut and Run, the first thriller in a series by Alix Bosco, his female pseudonym

Greg McGee enjoyed the anonymity of a female pseudonym. Picture / Derek Flynn

1. Can you share a pretty German word or phrase that enchants you?

Fahrtkaster. It's a much more interesting description of a fast bowler than the English. You can take the boy out of Oamaru ...

2. When you created Alix Bosco did you have a visual impression of her? How far did you go with your internal characterisation of her?

It was always [the protagonist] Anna's story and I originally wanted her to be on the front as the author, but was advised by the publisher that booksellers would file it under "Biography". But I've never thought of Alix as an identity, only of Anna.

I always saw her very clearly, everything about her, but the reader should be entitled to his or her own imaginative creation and not have her ruined by me.

3. When has a reviewer pissed you off and why?

Let me not count the ways ... But if you can't take the hits, don't get in the ring. What I find particularly offensive is when a critic gets personal, as if he or she knows me or my motives. Often I've never met the idiot, or maybe said a couple of words in passing. That's what made the Bosco experience so wonderful - the reviews, the Ngaio Marsh Award. I could be wrong, but I doubt if that would have happened if they'd known it was me. Anna would have had no credibility, because I, of course, write about blokes.

4. What's the first consideration when embarking on a book about an All Black captain? What principle must you obey for yourself as a writer and to the subject?

That it's his story, not mine. My job is to capture his voice, prompt his memory by being on top of the research and to structure the story so that it has a satisfying dramatic contour for the reader.

5. What should a subject consider before inviting you in?

I think Richie was wise - and certainly made it easier for me - not to tell his story until he had a story to tell.

6. What astonished you most about Richie McCaw?

Maybe his smile. He smiles easily.

And that he'd let me control the remote when we were on the sofa going through replays of Cardiff and Eden Park blow by blow.

7. When have you felt defeated by the process of writing?

Writing keeps me sane. I like having a challenge in front of me. I don't like doing the same thing over and over again. You have to accept, though, that every day won't be a good day. What defeats me today may not trouble me tomorrow. If you had a "win" every day, what kind of challenge would that be?

8. What new writing talent excites you?

Tolstoy, the Updike of the Rabbit quatro, the Boyd of Any Human Heart, the Mamet of Glengarry Glen Ross, the Heller of Catch 22, the JP Dunleavy of The Ginger Man - who cares if it's new talent or old talent? You can read it and discover it anew.

9. How does New Zealand look from where you are?

Small but perfectly formed, potentially at least - and very enticing.

10. What has you laughing like a drain?

I'll laugh at almost anything and I embarrass those close to me - most recently my wife Mary and daughter Caitlin when we got into a giggling fit on the train into Frankfurt. I cannot repeat what it was about.

11. What's your natural state of being - mostly sunny; a promise of clouds?

Unlike Richie, whose default setting is a smile, mine is preoccupation. I can be wandering along, perfectly happy, thinking of this or that, and someone will come up to me and say, "Jeez, Greg, what's the problem?" Very disconcerting. I'm trying to take a leaf out of Richie's book. Happiness might happen, but I don't expect happiness, I think that's a stupid aspiration. I like words like fulfilment better. You have to be able to write in all moods, and melancholia can be as enlightening as ecstasy.

12. Where's the most interesting place you've had sex?

I'm so disappointed you don't remember, Sarah.

- NZ Herald

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