Niamh Flynn reviews Miranda July’s Festival of Ideas event.
Miranda July, acclaimed filmmaker, actor, director, performance artist and award-winning writer, joined Zoe Williams from the Guardian in conversation last week at Watershed. The event allowed July to give an insight in to her multi-medium career, as well as discuss her newest work and first novel, The First Bad Man. She discussed her writing process, how she seamlessly moves between creative mediums and how she aims to make her works available to all.
If you merely Google Miranda July, it is not surprising that the event was sold out. July has done it all. Her first feature-length film back in 2005, Me and You and Everyone We Know, won not only the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, but also the Camera d’Or award at Cannes. These awards helped her name become synonymous in the world of independent film, but July offers more than just her successful cinematic work. No One Belongs Here More Than You, a collection of short stories, won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story award and has been published in 23 countries. She also has a variety of performance art pieces in her body of work and last year she launched an alternative messaging app, Somebody. It is almost unbelievable that July has achieved all this whilst still having a family. It is clear to see how July is inspirational to many and has come to receive a wide array of admirers of her work. So, the big question is: how does she do it?
Williams first delved in to how July has found the change from the short story to the novel form, and questioned how July, a natural short story writer, has progressed to a novelistic style of writing. July revealed how she spent approximately 8 months on the first draft of The First Bad Man after which she gave birth to her first child. Despite becoming a mother, she still found time to write and began the rewriting process for the next few years. July divulged her writing methods: to write at least a page a day and to not think about whether it is good or bad but to just keep going. After a question from the audience, July admitted to having a ‘room of one’s own’ where she goes to write, but that the initial concept of The First Bad Man came to her whilst on a car journey. On this journey, she mapped out what is still at the heart of the novel – a relationship between a younger woman and an older woman.
The relationship between the women in The First Bad Man is reflective of July’s relationships with different creative mediums. July acknowledged that she had not written for over a decade (something which is seems implausible given the novel’s quality), and went on to say how she leaves long lengths of time between producing work of a singular medium. Writing is a solitary medium, unlike the collaborative forms of performance art and filmmaking, and so July finds it refreshing to move between them. She does this so effortlessly by having one focus project whilst having other side projects. July explained that there is a running joke that she does so many things but that this is no joke to her and it isn’t a joke to me, either.
As July has taken time away from writing, she believes her writing has matured, but what hasn’t changed with her work is the reality amid the quirkiness. Unlike other long term successful artists, she has never lost sight of a normal everyday life. She told a story of meeting with executives when first making movies and telling them that her audience was simply – everyone. July agreed with Williams in that ‘art turns unbearable things bearable’, and even joked that her husband calls her the ‘descriptinator’, due to constantly trying to describe everything in the best way possible, and that it sounds like a superhero name. If this was the case, the headlines would be: Miranda July saves the day, one medium at a time.
July was an inspiration to listen to. She was particularly an inspiration to any upcoming young creative wanting to make art in any way possible. I am part way through her intriguing novel, and after this event, I am eagerly turning over the next page.
Image: Todd Cole