Last week I went to visit Miranda July in a somewhat archaic hotel in Mayfair. Turns out she wasn’t even staying there, but had been placed in a small room on a sofa to talk to journalists all day about her new book The First Bad Man. Although she was meant to be speaking primarily about that, I wanted to talk to her about some of the themes in the book and how they tie in to her own life – particularly as a few times in the past she’s almost cast herself seemingly unawares into her own projects. Miranda had a baby while she was writing this novel, and so this interview also covers how one continues to stay creatively motivated when confronted with eternal busyness, and the ways LA shrinks and doctors can help – or hinder – your work ethic.
I found that a lot of people writing reviews have been women and I’d love to know, have any men come to interview you?
I mean definitely way more women but yeah there have been some men. There was a man who said he was about to take the book off the shelf at a store with a little “bookstore recommends” sticker and it said “this book is for women,” but he took it and loved it. I think there’s a misconception that it might just be for women, but really all of the things I’ve made I think are just fine for men too. Stories about men are just about the world and so anyone can write about that. But stories about women are for women, they are women’s territory.
You work across a huge amount of mediums and platforms, when did you think “I have this idea, and it needs to be a book?”
I’d written a book of short stories, just as I’d made a bunch of short films and thought “well, I’ll try a feature film” – I thought I’d like to try a novel. I actually sold an idea to my publisher, and then later I thought, “this is not a good idea, it’s going to cause a lot of problems for me.” It was too personal, and in acting in my movie I realised that the thing that sucks about acting in these movies is there always has to be a character a little bit like me, and I don’t really like those characters: I don’t usually have them in my short stories or any of my other work.
The original novel idea was based on my life so it had someone like me in it, and I thought “why do that when I can be totally free?” And this idea and this new territory came to me sort of all at once. I was actually so excited about it that for a moment I was like, “this would be such a good movie!” And for the first few months of writing it I kept talking about casting and things that had nothing to do with sitting and writing a book for three years, but eventually I settled down and I had to write a novel.
"Having a baby kind of reset me to zero, I felt new in the world again."Miranda July
Do you think if you had written it without being pregnant or thinking about babies it would be a different book?
Yeah, for one thing I seeded this idea of a baby in the book. I had the idea before I was pregnant, I knew I was like “I’m 37, I want to have a baby, chances are over the course of this book I’ll learn a lot about babies and become a mother.” I knew my protagonist would end up with a baby at the end, but I had nothing to say about that for the whole first draft when I was pregnant. That changed, and I think having a baby kind of reset me to zero, I felt like new in the world again. Almost like when you’re a teenager and you’re just figuring everything out and you have all kinds of like hope and fear. Which is sort of how I felt, and it’s not a bad place to write from.
You said it took about three years to write, do you tend to put aside a few hours a day or do you write when it comes to you?I’ve always gone to my little office and spent most of the day there. Nowadays that’s set by when my son is in pre-school or with a nanny. My window of time was quite small to begin with and I wouldn’t even go to the office when he was a baby, but I was psyched the first time I went back to my office, I was like “hello again! It’s me!” So whatever my main project is I’m working away most of the day like most people on that, I start my work day in a hell of distraction and email and online ridiculousness and then sometimes I use a meditation app called Headspace for ten minutes and turn off the internet and thats how I shift to my creative work for the day.
I read somewhere that you like to have a “hint of excellence” before you work, and that you listen to or read something really good to set yourself a bit of competition?
Yeah, it can be in any medium, sometimes it’s just the idea that a certain kind of artist exists and is out there making work too.
"I start my work day in a hell of distraction and email and online ridiculousness and then sometimes I use a meditation app called Headspace for ten minutes and turn off the internet, and thats how I shift to my creative work for the day."Miranda July
You seem like you’re always so busy and always moving onto the next thing – do you ever stop looking to the next project, and how far ahead do you plan?
Quite far ahead. Usually the next few years are generally planned out as far as work. I felt when I had a baby that maybe things are kind of screwed in terms of personal freedom – I can’t just go off, go to the movies, or go gallivanting around but I never did that in the first place. Actually, all I ever did was work, and it seems like I can just manage to still do that and have the baby. I just can’t do this free time thing. Which is a little unfortunate because now I really need it and I never got good at it before. I always thought, “I’ll get good at that later,” and now it’s kind of like doctor’s orders. I’m probably at that point in your life where it’s good to add something else into the mix for everything. For the family, for the work – and I don’t know quite how I’m going to do that, but I’ll keep you posted.
You can buy objects from The First Bad Man and get yours hands on a very special edition of the book over here.