Rona Munro, 59, has written extensively for stage, radio, film and TV, and recently adapted Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Bartonfor the stage. She received critical acclaim for the award-winning The James Plays. Her TV and film work includes Oranges and Sunshine, Aimée and Jaguar, and Bumping the Odds for the BBC.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
To be a writer. At five or six, I remember writing about a puffin and a ghost. I was determined it was going to be a novel.
Private school or state school? University or straight into work?
Both. Albyn School for Young Ladies — I’m sure it’s not called that now. There was a hierarchy of the poshest schools in Aberdeen; I think we were number two. Then Mackie Academy in Stonehaven — a great state school, big and diverse — followed by medieval European history at Edinburgh University. The medieval is exciting because there are so many gaps in our knowledge that you can fill in with imagination. People were living more extreme lives, there’s a romance and a drama in that.
Who was or still is your mentor?
My mum’s cousin Uncle Angus, the writer Angus MacVicar. He made a living out of writing from the end of the second world war until he died — he wrote fantastic novels and sci-fi, for radio, for journalism. Because he was in the family, I knew that it was possible to survive as a writer. He also gave me the example of putting the hours in.
How physically fit are you?
I can run a very slow marathon.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Graft and talent are the two things you need. Ambition can lead you to some false summits.
How politically committed are you?
In the tribal sense of following a party no matter what, not at all. In a community sense — both my immediate community and the broader national and international community — I try. If you had your formative years in the 1980s, there was a sense of embattlement for people with left or liberal leanings, but also that, if you kept going, things would change. Now people seem incredibly disempowered.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
One of those Japanese baths. The plumber measured up and said, “Even if there was room, with your pipes, there’s no way.”
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Scarves. Because of where I live and having a dog, I’m mostly in sweatshirts, but I have this idea that if I accessorise, I can look like Audrey Hepburn.
In what place are you happiest?
Selkirk, where I live. Or with my son. Combining both is the best.
What ambitions do you still have?
When I started out, my only ambition was to make a living out of this. If I can keep doing that, I still feel like I’m beating the odds.
What drives you on?
For every creative person, there must be a bit of ego, that drive for acclamation. Beyond that, the enjoyment of spinning stories.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Bringing another human being into the world and not wrecking them is probably the greatest thing anyone can do. Professionally, The James Plays, the scale of them. And I wrote them for myself — they’re mad and daft and indulgent.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
People that dither while walking down the street, particularly in London. Abroad, I become the dithering person, of course.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
She’d be cool with the work going all right.
Which object that you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
My mother’s engagement ring. Someone came to her house pretending to be servicing vacuum cleaners and it vanished.
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
To accommodate diversity — in its biggest sense — with empathy. If we retreat into tribalism, we’re stuffed.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
If everything in my life is in balance, the answer to that question doesn’t trouble me.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’, adapted for the stage by Rona Munro, is on tour now; captaincorellismandolin.com
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