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22nd February 2014

Career Corner: Maria Hyland

Amy Bowden interviews novelist Maria J. Hyland

Novelist and former lawyer Maria J. Hyland lectures in creative writing at the University of Manchester. The author of three multi-award-winning  novels (How The Light Gets In [2004], Carry Me Down [2006] and This is How [2009]), she has also written for The Guardian, The Financial Times, the London Review of Books and elsewhere.

Maria Hyland

Job Title
Lecturer in Creative Writing, Novelist and Editor

Where and what did you study?
I studied Law and English Literature at the University of Melbourne and then did a Masters in English Literature. I graduated from Law and English Literature in 1996 with a 1st Class, and did my MA from 2000-2002.

Did you know what you wanted to do when you graduated?
Yes, whilst I was studying Law I was writing (especially short stories) although, haphazardly and without very much discipline. I was also editing a literary magazine throughout my combined degree which took six years to complete. Although I loved studying Law, I wasn’t especially keen on the practice of Law – although I did it for seven years! Two of those years I lectured in Law but I knew that sooner or later I would be a writer. It was a question of getting myself organised and disciplined enough to write a novel and as soon as my first novel was published I quit Law altogether.

What path did you take to get you where you are now?
I have been writing since I was 7 but my first short story was published when I was 17. It took me so long to write and publish my first novel because I was studying and practicing Law. I was also a professional procrastinator, especially after getting home from a day of working at various Law firms. I quit Law in 2003, which is the year my first novel came out and did nothing but write from then until 2007. I was a full-time writer!  I then went to Rome to do a yearlong scholarship when I received an email from the University of Manchester asking if I’d be interested in coming in for an interview to teach. In Rome, I was running out of money and thought about how much I love teaching. I had only ever taught in Law and never in a formal capacity on the topic of Creative Writing. So, I came from Rome to Manchester; a place I had never been before and I did the interview and got the job!

Which authors inspire you?
Oh gosh! The true answer is a long one but mostly American short story writers from around 1940’s onwards. The writers who are like catnip to me are Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver and Richard Ford as well as certain Russian writers such as Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov. I also read a lot of non-fiction.

What genre are your novels and what draws you to this genre?
I loathe the topic of genre. I want to write intelligent page turners and the most important thing for me is plot and the overall telling of the story – so, its genre-less! Crime is featured in my novels, especially the second and third. However, my stories are focused on psychological examination and the unconscious life of the mind of usually one core principal character.

What does your current job involve?
Although I love to teach I want to continue writing novels and therefore work part-time at the University of Manchester. I teach second and third year undergraduates as well as the Masters programme for fiction writing. I teach alongside whoever happens to be the iconic appointment at that time. It was Martin Amis and then Colm Tóibín and now it’s Jeanette Winterson. I also like to write pieces of non-fiction from time to time for newspapers such as The Guardian but my main gig is novel writing!

What do you most enjoy about your current role?
I am in love with teaching and it matters a great deal. A young writer’s apprenticeship can be sped up by years if they have a decent teacher and if that sometimes means being tough then I’ll be tough! I always had good teachers so I guess it’s in my bloodstream.

What advice would you give to students who might aspire to have a similar career?
To write a lot and read copiously! Think of it as akin to wanting to be a musician; you wouldn’t dream of thinking of it as a profession unless you had that guitar or violin in your hands for less than three or four hours a day. A student of writing should be leading up towards that mark. It’s work. It’s talent plus ten thousand hours to see whether you, as a writer, have the stamina, will and drive to write for the long-haul.

Do you have any reading recommendations?
You have to find a writer you like and you have to love their style. As I have already said, Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor are fantastic writers with a unique and established sense of style. Someone who is eager to read or write can subscribe to something like Granta magazine which will introduce you to new writers and give you a sense of what the standard is or what you might aim for. Or you can do what I used to do and go through the Nobel Laureate list.

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