20 Questions for Andrew O’Hagan
20 Questions for the author of The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of his friend Marilyn Monroe.
1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
‘The dog given to Marilyn Monroe by Frank Sinatra saw everything and now tells his story.’
2. How long did it take you to write this book?
‘Ten years, given take a few other projects and a few stints in the Betty Ford Clinic.’
3. Where is your favorite place to write?
‘In bed, preferably alone, with a large bag of Tortilla chips and several episodes of Jersey Shore.’
4. How do you choose your characters’ names?
‘I think of people I knew when I was very small, and steal their names.’
5. How many drafts do you go through?
‘About a dozen.’
6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’
7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?
‘I’d like my entire family to star in the movie of this book. It would give me some very perverse pleasure to see my Uncle Harry play Frank Sinatra, my mother play Marilyn Monroe, and my dad play the dog. Is that fucked up or what?’
8. What’s your favourite city in the world? ‘Glasgow, in certain moods. Las Vegas in others.’
9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask? ‘I’d like to talk to the Scottish poet Robert Burns. I think we’d cry laughing and then go on an all-night bender, and then sing songs, then be best pals for life. My idea of fun. I’d ask him why it took so long for him to show up.’
10. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?
‘Occasionally, I’ll put on some Schubert songs or an album by the Cocteau Twins, but in every instance I find it too involving and have to turn it off.’
11. Who is the first person who gets to you read your manuscript?
‘My editors Lee Brackstone, Drenka Willen, and Ellen Seligman.’
12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
‘Celebrity magazines. I read them as if they were major works by Russian moralists. Which is a mistake.’
13. What’s on your nightstand right now?
‘Daniel Deronda by George Eliot.’
14. What is the first book you remember reading?
‘My father was a fan of those dirty airport novels by Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon. He tried to conceal them but me and my brothers would always find them and scour them looking for the dirty bits.’
15. Did you always want to be a writer?
‘No. I wanted to be a ballet dancer first but I injured my hip. Then I wanted to be a star of daytime soaps but my acting was too corny.’
16. What do you drink or eat while you write?
‘Tortilla chips and Diet Coke.’
17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?
‘All three. I often start a paragraph on paper and then run it through the typewriter. When I’m happy with enough of those I’ll move to the laptop.’
18. What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?
‘I cried for half an hour, then I went dancing with a group of chums and took recreational drugs. (I was 24.) Then, the next day, I read a book by Henry James to remind me how far I had to go.’
19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
‘I lived with the idea of the book for a year before deciding that. I have to let it seep through, and eventually you see the pattern of the book and hear its voice.’
20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
‘A big cuddle. Or a house in Key West.’