Gina Maya is the creator of Edinburgh Trance, a website comprised of articles on cinema, books, theatre, and her life in Edinburgh. Gina has also published a novel, Utopia in Danzig, and completed an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh in 2016. Over the course of her life and career, Gina has lived in countless countries and cultures, which have informed both her fiction and nonfiction writing. In an article on her website, Gina describes herself as follows: “First of all, I’m me, made up of lots of pieces. Gender is the very important interface I use to engage within society. I sometimes think I’m trans, and other times non-binary, and perhaps most of the time I don’t stop to think about my gender at all. There are, in fact, several elements to my personality, varying by the second throughout the day.”
In this interview, The Ogilvie’s Assistant Editor Angela Hicks speaks with Gina about her writing–fiction, essays, and analysis–and asks where these fields intertwine, as well as what lessons Gina has learned from her writing career thus far.
You set up your website, GinaMaya.co.uk, in 2016. How did you decide what topics and areas to cover?
I originally overloaded. I thought I would cover a broad sweep of the art scene in Edinburgh: music, theatre, books and cinema. Then I realized the only thing I could afford to do, given how broke I was becoming, was go on a weekly trip to the cinema. It evolved quickly after that into the two things that I do in my free time: I exist, and I watch movies. So what emerged was diary and cinema.
Having said that, for one month of the year, when the Edinburgh Festival kicks in, my theatre reviews emerge like that desert flower, the Rose of Jericho. Then die again.
Did you have much experience of writing reviews, personal essays and other nonfiction pieces prior to your website?
No, but I’d just finished my Masters in Creative Writing and it was really a question of ‘now what?’ I wanted to keep writing, and I thought it might be useful to keep an online diary about my transitioning, as I’d only come out as trans some five months earlier. Reading other people’s online accounts of transitioning had been useful to me, so that was a motivation.
I imagine it can be daunting and draining to write so prolifically, particularly when the subject matter is your own life. Do you feel writing about your personal experiences helps you, either as a writer or just as a person?
It’s interesting, on the issue of it helping me. When I started transitioning through the National Health Service, I thought I would have counselling to help me adjust psychologically. But that hasn’t transpired at all. Perhaps the NHS don’t have the resources, or don’t think I need it. But I think writing about stuff does help, although I don’t write about everything–there are one or two no-go areas that I might write in a private diary, just for me. I wonder if I hadn’t written my diary posts, if I’d be loaded with more mental baggage, more anger or bitterness.
On whether it’s helped me as a writer, I think recording stuff is useful. I remember occasionally writing something down around 2014-2015, on feelings of being in the closet. I was able to return to these perspectives on the Creative Writing course. I hope my current website posts can be useful to me when/if I write another novel.
On a more specific note, I notice that Tintin pops up in both your novel and on your website (the chapter “The Killers and the Wrath of Tintin” and the article Is Tintin Transgender? respectively). Is there something particular which draws you to that character?
The Tintin thing goes way back; I grew up loving the storybooks and did wonder about Tintin’s dark side, and imagined a ‘dark’ Tintin adventure focusing on the possibility of Tintin being transgender. I explored the idea in the novel, then a few years later thought it wouldn’t hurt if I returned to the idea in a posting.
So that was something quite specific to my life, a gentle obsession. Gentle obsessions: I’m sure I have several of them, appearing in my conversation, or mused about in a diary posting, or played out in a novel. My novel is full of gentle obsessions–I think that’s what drove it.
Let’s talk a little more about your novel. When did you first begin writing Utopia in Danzig?
A long time ago. Around the end of 2007, I began writing a script about a magical hotel where the guests never left. It was meant to be performed, a kind of dark comedy. At some point around 2009 it had become another obsession, not so gentle this time, and I didn’t know what to do with it, so I turned it into novel form. From there, I wrote whenever I had the time and had it finished by around 2015. That’s a long time; from when it became a novel that’s six years of off-and-on writing. Whatever the novel’s merits, I guess it’s where I learned how to write prose in a much tighter manner than would otherwise be the case.
You self-published the book in 2016. How did you find that process?
It’s a kind of wilderness. I tried to do the right things. I got hold of The Writer’s Yearbook and looked up the agents who might be interested. I wrote to about twenty-four, and got rejected every time. I think at that stage I was ready to self-publish just to move on. I turned to a professional editor who gave me lots of feedback and nice support, which looking back was obviously the thing I should have done first. I got in touch with people to design the cover and the text layout, and finally uploaded on Amazon.
I have a section about it on my website, but otherwise I haven’t marketed it. I don’t know how I feel about it, and haven’t read it since the upload. It records a time in my life that I wanted to put out there, but I don’t have enough confidence in it to do anything more.
When you finished the book, did you feel that there were characters and concepts from it which you wanted to explore further?
Yes, originally. The country in which it took place was fictional and the way it finished was open-ended. I did imagine future scenarios. Part of me would love to return to the main characters. But the adventure was so surreal and layered in fantasy–as a means of expressing myself in a way I couldn’t in real life. Now I’m out, maybe I should write in a less surreal, fantastical way. I don’t know. I’ll only know when I write the next novel, but on my Creative Writing course, after I’d finished writing the novel, I’m conscious that I didn’t touch surrealism or fantasy, although I love those genres.
You’ve drawn inspiration from some of the places you’ve lived and from some of the people you’ve known in your writing; at the same time, the story’s setting is distinct from our world, and it exists in an alternate history. How much of Utopia in Danzig is based off of lived experience, versus imagination?
It’s based in a fictional European country which is an amalgam of Poland, Russia and Germany, and I have lived and worked in all those countries. I felt confident as such, but in making it a Jewish State, I wasn’t confident. It was actually my way of writing about being Welsh, from a Welsh-language community. I researched Yiddish culture, but emotionally, it was really about being from a culturally embattled minority, and of having a mixture of pride and defensiveness on the one hand, but also a yearning to not be involved in the survival of a culture that seems always to be struggling for its existence.
As you were writing fiction, were you also writing nonfiction like personal essays, or did you ramp up your personal writing when you started the website?
My fiction acted as personal essays. I convey quite personal stuff when I write creatively, either literally or emotionally. I also think writing fantasy can be deeply personal. In some ways, the website feels less personal. I don’t reflect much with the postings; I write one draft as a reflection on something, then upload. I think they’re the literary equivalent of busking: something comes into my head and I write without too much reflection or creativity. I wish I spent more time on the website uploads, but if I did, I might stop writing regularly. I guess that’s the trade-off.
True–you clearly spend a lot of time writing between reviews, fiction, non-fiction, and your doctorate studies. Do you find it hard to switch off from wanting to write or review?
It’s funny that you ask that; I had a Christmas break of not posting anything, partly due to circumstances, but I’ve found it difficult to get back into the swing of things. I’m not sure that I want to write on my site in the way I’ve been doing forever. Answering your questions like this, it does make one reflect on the future. So to answer your question directly, perhaps the switching off is happening now, as I’m writing this. I’m sure I’ll continue using the website, but perhaps it’s time for another project?
Speaking of new projects, do you have any writing planned for 2018 which you’re able to talk about now, or is it all still being kept secret?
There are no secrets, no big unveiling. A few days ago I applied to be mentored and funded for a literary project relating to LGBT identity, and it would be great if I got it. As with this interview, it made me reflect on how I haven’t tried to write creative fiction since 2016. I think that will change soon. I can feel another gentle obsession developing.