Q&A with Una McCormack

We speak to the lecturer in creative writing at Anglia Ruskin University. Plus the latest higher education appointments

November 21, 2013

Source: David Johnson

Una McCormack, lecturer in creative writing at Anglia Ruskin University, began writing fiction as a child. Her most recent novel, Star Trek: The Fall: The Crimson Shadow, recently reached 17th spot in The New York Times’ best-seller list.

Where and when were you born?
St Helen’s, Merseyside, January 1972.

How has this shaped you?
I spent a great deal of time and effort in my twenties defining myself in opposition to a very conservative Catholic upbringing. At some point I decided it was more interesting to define myself on my own terms.

Describe your latest book in 140 characters.
A political thriller that reflects on nationalism, patriotism, institutional corruption, and the threat of democratic decline. In space.

What were your feelings upon making the top 20 of The New York Times’ best-seller list?
It was so completely unexpected that I burst out laughing. Then I thought: “Surely this is REF-able?” Above all, I am very pleased to think of my book being read.

Have you had a eureka moment?
Reading a comment back from my A-level English language teacher on an essay. She circled a word that I’d crossed out and over it she wrote: “No: you needed it to make the sentence balance.” This was the first time I thought seriously about writing as a process requiring conscious craft, consideration and organisation.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Ask questions fearlessly and find people who are willing to answer your questions with honesty and openness, and without cynicism. Trust your intuitions. Break some more rules. And take A-level physics.

Tell us about someone you’ve always admired.
The former vice-principal of Newnham College [Cambridge], Gill Sutherland, who has changed the lives of many young women who have passed her way, not least by being an extraordinary role model for how a woman can live the life of the mind.

What are the best and worst things about your job?
The best thing about teaching is watching a student make a breakthrough. The best thing about writing is the sense of freedom and play you get when it’s going well. The worst of both is not having enough time to do everything as thoroughly as I’d like.

What keeps you awake at night?
Right now, being eight months pregnant.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be both prime minister and an astronaut. I’ve largely got to do both by proxy, without any of the hassle or the danger.

Tell us about a book, show, film or play that you love.
Powell and Pressburger’s [film] The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. I love its unabashed romanticism and its faith in human love and decency. The last scene reduces me to tears every time.

What do you do for fun?
I read whatever is to hand, and I fritter away time on Twitter.

What’s your biggest regret?
That my daughter will never have the chance to meet my father.

Which historical figure would you most like to meet?
Emma Goldman, anarchist, feminist, freethinker and “the most dangerous woman in America”.

What’s an undergraduate degree worth?
For me, incalculable. And I got it for free. Imagine a society motivated by such generosity.

To what, or whom, do you feel most allegiance?
Feminism, as a set of utopian ideas that contain within them the potential to change the world, and as the series of debates and practices by which we imperfectly try to bring that better world into existence.

Doctor Who or Star Trek? (Yes, you must pick one!)
Blake’s 7.

john.elmes@tsleducation.com

Appointments

Timothy Gordon, an expert in vehicle control and safety, has been appointed head of engineering at the University of Lincoln. He was previously professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Mike Kagioglou has joined the University of Huddersfield as dean of art, design and architecture. Professor Kagioglou was previously head of the School of the Built Environment at the University of Salford.

A University of Leicester academic has become a member of a prestigious European academy. David Mattingly, professor of Roman archaeology, has joined the Academia Europaea, a European Academy of Humanities, Letters and Sciences, whose members are drawn from across the whole continent.

The University of Bath has welcomed three new professorial appointments to its School of Management: Julia Balogun, professor of strategy; Christos Pitelis, professor of sustainable global business; and Ammon Salter, professor in innovation.

The University of Salford has appointed Andy Sutton to a visiting professorship in the School of Computing, Science and Engineering, where he will conduct research and work with students. He is principal network architect at mobile phone and internet provider EE.

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