Interview, News

Interview: Emma Jane Unsworth

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Photograph courtesy of  Bookmunch
By Lisa Burnsand Neil Harrison
Hungry, The Stars And Everything author Emma Jane Unsworth paid a visit to MMU recently to help launch its new ‘Humanities in Public’ programme. Whilst there, the award-winning writer and journalist spoke to Humanities’ Hallows about her faith in the humanities, her forthcoming book Animalsand her home town of Manchester.

Humanities’ Hallows: Can you tell us what made you want to get involved with the event this evening? What is it about the humanities that are so important to you?

Emma Jane Unsworth: In all honesty, I couldn’t remember what the humanities actually involved. Then, once I looked them up, I realised they were all my favourite things – art, philosophy, theatre, dance … all the things that give meaning to my life and that I’m interested in. And so, in terms of how they affect my life, how could I not support them?

HH: Why do you think bringing humanities out into the public arena is worthwhile?

EJU: Everyone is skint at the moment, the country is in such a state in terms of the economy, but actually, the humanities … can be really edifying, there’s a lot of solace to be had in the arts and in reading. It’s all too easy to say ‘these are things we can get rid of’, but actually these are things that can provide a lot of comfort at times when nothing else really is doing. No matter how skint I’ve been, I’ve always been able to draw comfort from reading.

HH:You said that the humanities were about ‘joining up the dots’ in your speech, what did you mean by that?

EJU:I guess I meant that [we] have empirical science, which sets and decides upon facts as we know them [at] a specific point in time. However, the humanities, in my opinion, contextualises those facts within a narrative, within history, within culture, within all the big things that make us feel like human beings who are operating amongst other human beings. 
So, ‘joining up the dots’ for me is about making sense of things that we take to be true, such as ‘I am here in this room, standing talking to you’ – but what’s the point of that? Why am I here? The humanities give us that wisdom, that explanation to go with the bare facts.

HH: You have a new book set to be released soon, can you tell us about it?

EJU: My second book is calledAnimals and it’s coming out in May next year. It’s been described as a kind of Withnail And I but with girls. It’s about two women who are in their late twenties and are just going out, drinking too much, taking drugs, doing too many things that they shouldn’t and just philosophising about life and being quite pretentious … using poetry to bolster their lifestyle, for instance. 
They are just being kind of unconventional. I believe that progress and evolution can only happen at the edges of understanding, that it’s only because of the rogues, the mutations, that we ever get anywhere. So you’ve got to have people who are pushing the boundaries. For example, women in their late twenties who aren’t having babies or getting married or settling down. These are, in my opinion, the rogue particles who are actually creating evolution/revolution for all women, just by doing something a bit different.

Emma Jane with Humanities’ Hallows 
HH: How important has the city of Manchester been in terms of your writing?

EJU:It has been [important] for many years. I’ve drawn upon the city for so many inspirations, partly because Manchester has got a real Victorian, slightly Gothic sensibility to it, which I adore. It’s grey, and there’s lots of wrought iron and smoke-scarred brickwork, and I love all that! It’s given me huge inspiration. Not enough people spend time walking around their cities … you need to walk around your city to truly know it. I’ve spent so much time walking around Manchester and loving it, in varying states of inebriation! But I’ve always found plenty to glean inspiration from. The city itself has been a character in my work, more than just a setting, it has actually been a character. I know when I’m here because I feel connected … in the same way as when I meet up with a best friend. When I’m here I feel rooted, connected to something. There is a character to Manchester that I am absolutely, fundamentally attached to.

Animalsis published in Spring 2014 by Canongate. Hungry, The Stars And Everything is available now published by The Hidden Gem Press. For more info on Emma Jane Unsworth visit
Lisa Burns studies History and English at MMU. When she’s not got her nose in a book, she loves having adventures in the great outdoors! Follow her on Twitter @LittleRobin09 

Neil Harrison studies Social History at MMU, he is an aspiring writer, an awful guitar player and a lazy socialist. Follow him on Twitter @looseriver

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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