Mansfield Questionnaire: Greg McGee
Greg McGee responds to our slightly irreverent literary questionnaire, inspired by New Zealand author Katherine Mansfield.
Write a prelude to your life in one sentence:
My 95 year old mother, whose memory isn’t as reliable as it once was, is nevertheless pretty sure that there was no new star in the east over Oamaru hospital on the night I was born, nor did any wise men bearing gifts turn up, just my father with my one-year old brother, Richard who seemed none too keen on the prospect of competition for parental affection.
Would your father have accepted your plea for musical training?
After I’d been caught shop-lifting at ten, my father press-ganged me into singing lessons with an elderly spinster so that I could be in the St Lukes choir. Sundays became unendurable, but my pleas for clemency fell on deaf ears, I had to get myself thrown out.
Do you speak French?
In Menton (right on the Italian border) I got by in Italian - in fact in one ristorante, I had to translate for the French speakers.
If you were to, at any stage, become a ghost who would you haunt?
Hitler, Stalin, Ruth Richardson, etc: someone who deserves an accusing conscience in death that they never had in life.
Do you keep ‘great complaining notebooks’ a.k.a. journals?
Na, waste of creative capital, like my memoir, which began as - and should have stayed as - an exercise in taking stock.
Garden parties. Yes or no?
Yes, as long as I’m not the host and I’ve got a hat.
Where have you had the best time of your life?
The places where I’ve lost my conscious sense of self: playing sport sometimes, writing sometimes, reading sometimes, making merry with friends sometimes, making love sometimes.
Where have you had the worst time of your life?
Many of the bad places or spaces came in my twenties, where I often felt adrift and isolated and wracked by a malaise about what was to become of me.
If you were to use a nom de plume, what would it be?
I really liked Alix Bosco, though to me she was always Anna Markunas, the central character in the two crime novels I wrote under that pseudonym. Bosco means bush in Italian, the perfect place to hide.
Virginia Woolf wrote ‘I was jealous of her writing — the only writing I have ever been jealous of.’ Who are you most jealous of?
I’m a bit of an authorial Yozzer Hughes. Most writing I read, I think, rightly or wrongly: I could do that. Mostly I wouldn’t want to. But some books (not authors) are so stunning, I can only look at them in wonder: Catch 22, Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy, Martin Amis’ Money, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, Owls Do Cry...
Where are you in the family birth order?
Second of five.
You left home and then:
Did law at Otago University. My father suspected university was just a means of avoiding manual labour. He was right.
What is your favourite short story?
If You See Her Say Hello, by Bob Dylan. The compression. It was as if he knew about all the young Kiwis on OEs with broken hearts strewn across the world.
What was the last real letter you wrote?
Can’t remember. Maybe from Italy in the mid-1970s to my poor suffering mother.
What brings you bliss?
See 7 above.
How would you like to die?
Impossibly - both suddenly and peacefully.
‘There is no twilight in our New Zealand days, but a curious half-hour when everything appears grotesque—it frightens—as though the savage spirit of the country walked abroad and sneered at what it saw.’ What are your feelings on New Zealand twilight?
Where in NZ could she have been to get such a short twilight? I love twilight, autumn is my favourite season, maybe because both are kind of muted and reflective times, or maybe it’s just because I’m old.
Has anyone ever said of you that you’re ‘a dangerous woman’?
My agent, the late Michael Gifkins. He loved Alix Bosco, thought she was a fabulous and dangerous creature. That she was in fact me was a constant disappointment to him.
Have you ever had an X-ray?
Can’t think of too many bits of me that are proximate to a bone and haven’t been X rayed.
Write a brief history of your eyesight:
Promising beginning, given my maternal family’s history of glaucoma, saw the light. But no sun-glasses as a kid in the North and Central Otago light didn’t help, nor did tearing my retina recently when I got a knock on the head.
Is there ‘the taint of the pioneer’ in your blood?
My blood could be considered tainted, on both sides of my family, but with ‘pioneer’?
‘I want to be REAL.’ True or false?
The writer’s paradox: how to tell lies which are real and true.