'Art, sex, and urban planning' - ten thoughts on New York City
Megan Bradbury, author of Everyone Is Watching, on why she was drawn to write about New York City and the artists and thinkers who have defined it.
- I love the confident, swaggering strides of New Yorkers. When I stayed in New York for an extended trip a few years ago, the city’s energy made me feel ambitious. As a writer struggling to find her subject, this was exactly what I needed – something to hold out its arms and say, ‘Look. It’s all here – now just choose.’ I took the city literally and chose it for my subject.
- New York is intense, stubborn, romantic, exuberant, obsessive, hard-working, ambitious, playful, energetic, exhausting, (almost) impossible, and all these things are also true of writing.
- After I returned to the UK, I found that it was the ordinary things about New York that I missed the most: conversations with strangers, cheap, fresh fast-food, things I should really have been happy to see the back of: the traffic, subway dirt, the hollering of people and the honking of car horns throughout the night, but I missed these too.
- I was surprised by the things I came to love about New York. I should have hated the place where I was staying, for example. Midtown around West 30th Street is a transportation hub: utilitarian and congested. My local restaurants were McDonalds, Wendy’s, and KFC. Prostitutes and pimps congregated on street corners at night. Limp vegetables wilted in damp trays outside grotty grocery stores. But in the morning I loved to walk down the narrow street, turn the corner onto 8th Avenue and be carried off by the crowd.
- New York City inspires a ‘fuck-you’ attitude, and I believe this is the most precious quality a writer can have.
- It was through researching Everyone is Watching that I discovered the subjects that interested me the most: art, sex, and (strangely) urban planning. The advice to ‘write what you know’ is misleading and discouraging. You should write about what interests you. It is in writing about new subjects that one can best discover new and exciting modes of expression.
- Another reason I wanted to write about New York City was because I didn’t want to leave it
- New York taught me to think differently. It made me brash and stubborn. Looking back now, I see that this was what I had been lacking before – desire, stubbornness, obsessiveness, and a willingness to take risks. New York isn’t an easy place, but writing isn’t easy either. As soon as I realised that the city could be seen as a metaphor for writing things began to change for me. Every now and then whilst working on Everyone is Watching I lost my nerve. When I did, it was the thought of New York that slapped me in the face and told me to just get on with it.
- I once joked with a friend that the most unlikely thing for me to write would be an ‘urban novel’.
- New York opened my eyes, as it has opened the eyes of so many people. My obsession for the place has not dissipated in the writing of Everyone is Watching. If anything, it is greater.
Megan Bradbury's debut novel Everyone is Watching is a love letter to New York, told through the lives and perspectives of four of the city’s greatest creators, artists and thinkers - Robert Mapplethorpe, Walt Whitman, Robert Moses and Edmund White.
Out now in Paperback and as an Ebook.
Watch Megan reading from Everyone Is Watching