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Behind the Sentences with… Elizabeth McCracken


Where do you work?

I used to be precious about where I worked – now it’s all over the house, or in my campus office, at a desk, in an armchair. I don’t have a dedicated place to write at home (I live in a bungalow with three other people and a cat) and I long for one. Someday!

What is your writing routine?

When I’m working full force on something, I wake up at 5am or even earlier, and head to my office at the university where I teach, before I talk to another human being. I have my internet blocked. That’s essential for me – otherwise I hear the burble of all that information and gossip, and I want to follow it. I am essentially lazy and I have to battle against it in order to get anything done. I am an object that at rest tends to stay at rest. So I have to nudge myself.

Do you have any writer “habits” – bad or otherwise?

Tender, as an adjective, is my greatest weakness, though I am also fond of grim and dimestore. Somehow I always write a scene in which one character is lying down and another is standing by the bed. Beds, in general, call to me in fiction, as in life.

If you could develop one amazing writer super-power what would it be?

I’m not sure – my work habits feel like such a house of cards I’m worried that if I overdeveloped one power the whole thing would come tumbling down. Though if my handwriting were better, I might be able to read my own notes to myself. Superior penmanship. That would be good.

What happens when you stop writing? Away from the page, what do you do to relax? What happens if you have writers’ block? Do you have any tricks to escape it? And how do you reward yourself or celebrate after the completion of a story or manuscript, or on publication day?

The only way I know to work is to work – often if I’m stalled it’s because I have looked at my own sentences, and in my memory they’re rotten. Reading work I love is useful, too, a mental lubricant. I have few hobbies, though I like to swim. Swimming and napping. When I was younger I was prone to celebrating all sorts of things but in my late middle-age, I am more likely just to feel quietly smug and keep it to myself.

Any words of advice to other writers, who might like to be in your shoes – shortlisted for the award – next year?

Only that the short story is a beautifully elastic dance. You don’t need to follow other people’s steps.

Elizabeth McCracken's shortlisted story, The Irish Wedding, can be read here


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