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Interview: Jacquie McRae talks about The Liminal Space

Jacquie McRae (Tainui) has a Master of Creative Writing with Honours and received a Michael King Māori Writers residency in 2018. She had previously completed Te Papa Tupu mentoring programme where she worked on her first novel, a young adult fiction, The Scent of Apples, which received a Gold in the IPPY Awards 2012 and was selected for the White Ravens list of outstanding international books for children and young adults in the same year. She has twice been a Pikihuia Awards finalist and had her stories published in Huia’s short story collections and Stories on the Four Winds, Ngā Hau e Whā. The Liminal Space is her second novel, which was shortlisted for the NZ Booklovers Fiction Award 2022.

Tell us a little about The Liminal Space.

In a village we meet William, who used to be a Doctor but now only prescribes books for people. There are whispers that he isn’t who he says he is. The lives of three other people in the village intersect with Williams. They are all thrown into a Liminal space when they each come to a turning point and cannot stay as they. The Liminal space is where we choose what happens next and this is the place where possibilities live. This is a tale about stories, especially the ones we tell ourselves.

What inspired you to write this book?

The idea of writing a novel about the transformative power of stories has been incubating for a while. I started imagining a world where Doctors prescribed books instead of pills and my first character William was born. I modelled him a little on Edward Bach who was a Doctor in the early 20th century and discovered the Bach remedies. He claimed to feel what his patients felt.

What was your routine or process when writing this book and what research was involved?

I worked on a first draft of this novel for my Masters in Creative writing. Alongside the creative work I had to write an exegesis which looked at the process I was using to write the Liminal space. I read a lot of books about village life, placebos, synaesthesia, forest bathing etc but also books that explored the craft of writing and the universal characteristics of storytelling. I think this research added another layer to the book. Over the four years it took me to write this small book I felt like I read hundreds of books, but I may exaggerate a little. The setting is so important to this novel and was like another character. I saw a photo of a village in England where the Tudor style houses were all crooked and lent on each other. It is surrounded by woodlands and on the banks of a river. The lanes are all one way and circle back on themselves and the doors of the houses open straight onto the footpath. After my first draft I took a trip to England and was able to add some more sensory details that I couldn’t have got online.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

William often plays classical music as he sits in his garden by the river. The pace of The Liminal Space is intentionally slow so something composed by Ennio Morricone would work well. He’s a genius at writing hauntingly beautiful soundtracks for movies.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

I would love someone like Jack Nicholson to play William as he always appears slightly dishevelled and perhaps a little eccentric. As Jacks American, and the book is set in England, we’d probably need an English actor. Perhaps Bill Nighy or Anthony Hopkins if he’s not busy.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

I feel like this book was the one I’ve always wanted to write, as it traffics in human possibilities. It tested me as a writer and I’m pretty sure I will never write another book with four separate stories that I have to somehow weave together.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I celebrated the end of writing this novel many times. When I first handed it in and each draft after. (There were at least five drafts) I then celebrated when Huia said they would publish it, when I received the first copy and again when I launched it. The celebration usually involves friends and some alcohol.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I read my first Johnathan Franzen book Crossroads at the beginning of this year. As soon as I finished it, I went looking for more of his writing. The story was great, about a family in the seventies all having a meltdown but it was his clever observations about human nature that captured me.

I am reading Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka. It is a new telling of a well-known Māori legend about Hatupatu and the the bird woman Kurangaituku. Whiti has chosen to tell it from Kurangaitukus point of view. Sort of like red riding hood told from the wolf’s perspective. I’m only a little way in, but already I love the playfulness and can see the amount of research that must have gone into this. I’m in awe of Whiti’s inventiveness in writing her book this way, and have always liked the way she arranges words.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

My next book is a blend of two stories. It's about moonshine and greenstone. It's historical fiction about a Scottish widow that immigrated to NZ in 1872 and made whisky in the Hokonui hills. The other story is of a Maori woman that traversed the same hills transporting greenstone around Te Waipounamu. The story is on hold this year as I'm at Waikato University doing full immersion Te reo. I'm sure that a lot of what I learn this year will end up in the book somewhere.

Huia Publishers


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