Madeleine Bunting longlist author interview
Madeleine Bunting talks about why it was important to convey the truth about care in Labours of Love - The Crisis of Care
What does it feel like to be longlisted?
Surprised and delighted. The point of prizes, it seems to me, is the wonderful encouragement they offer us writers to keep working. By definition, writing is lonely, hard work and requires self-belief and tenacity; often you are working for years on a subject which other people might think boring, obscure or uninteresting. So keeping at bay all those demons - what am I doing? you can’t do this; this is dull, why not go out and lie in the sun (this afternoon’s temptation) - is often a tough task. A prize long listing spurs you on for those years of labour on the next book!
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
A groan of anguish! It’s impossible to choose one! I have a section of shelf right by my desk of about 12 non-fiction titles which I think are superb (interestingly mostly by women) such as Rebecca Solnit, Kathleen Jamie, Nan Shepherd, but let me pick out two recent additions: How to do Nothing by a young American writer, Jenny Odell, and Joe Moran’s First You Write a Sentence. The former is a brilliant maelstrom of ideas environmentalism and politics in the Solnit tradition, the latter is a must for every writer, wonderfully intelligent and perceptive.
How did you conduct your research?
I write quite different forms of non-fiction and for each one, there is a different process. For Labours of Love, I read widely across multiple disciplines: sociology, philosophy, gender studies, history, memoir, medicine, anthropology and at the same time, I was volunteering as a carer at a hospice, and travelling across the country to interview and shadow people whose lives revolve around offering care. It was challenging trying to relate the academic literature to the lived experience and find a way to write about the subject which was fresh, compelling and driven by my sense of the urgent importance of the subject.
Labours of Love focuses on the deeply human side of the care crisis. Do you think this human element is sometimes neglected in the wider media discussions and reports on care?
Care is a grossly misunderstood and undervalued activity, and that was the issue which again and again spurred me on. It is belittled, bureaucratised, routinised and ignored. Yet care is one of the most creative and spontaneous work most of us will ever undertake: to see and hear people describing this either as a giver or recipient is profoundly moving. This is our better selves and at a time when often there is so much pessimism about human nature, it is a source of great optimism.
What are you working on next?
I have a novel coming out next summer with Granta, Ceremony of Innocence, which deals with the aftermath of empire in the Gulf. I am also researching my next non-fiction which focuses on England’s love affair with its seaside resorts: from its beginnings in the eighteenth century right through to the struggle to adapt in the late twentieth century and their predicament now in which they regularly feature in all the measures of deprivation. The seaside has been a mirror to England’s sense of nationhood for 250 years.