"Mcgregor is an exemplary archivist of the humdrum ... written by someone who detects so passionately the remarkable in the everyday." -- The Spectator, 18th January 2003
"You won't read anything much more poignant than this." -- Daily Telegraph 17th September 2002
"moving vision of contemporary Britain, a remarkably accomplished first novel, Booker-longlisted." -- Sunday Times 22nd September 2002
From the Author
In the summer of 1997, a boy was shot in Bolton, round about the same time that Diana died. This got me thinking about the significance that gets attached to people's lives and deaths, about perceived levels of tragedy and newsworthiness. I was interested in the anonymity of city life, the fact that I still didn't know my neighbours after three years, the damage that transience does to the community. And a few almost-terrible incidents in the street I was living in at the time gave me the magic What If that fiction always requires.
However, it took me a long time to develop that into anything useful or compelling - there were a lot of false starts and cul-de-sacs. In particular I was using the hook, for a long time, of setting it on the day of Diana's death and making the stories revolve around that. It took me a long time to drop that idea, but it needed dropping; it was too melodramatic and artificial, and it detracted from the characters and stories of the people on the street. I've left in a faint reference to that whole concept though; the story is still set on that day, but without any mention of it beyond a reference to the date - a counterclaim for the importance of other people's lives.
The character of the narrator - and therefore the hook and drive of the novel as a coherent whole - didn't come until May 2000, when I went to Japan to visit a friend and he showed me the Buddhist temple at Kamakura, where they have a shrine for mothers of stillborn/aborted children. This sparked off a chain of thought about what a responsibility and a fear pregnancy must be, which gradually rolled into a storyline able to tie together what was happening in the street. So in a sense I only really started writing the novel then, but I was pulling in a lot of material written previously to that and as a result finished an initial version in March 2001.
So that's the mechanics of it. A list of things I was thinking about whilst writing it would include; ideas of connection and misconnection, the prominence of celebrity, the importance of unwitnessed lives, an assertion that the job of a writer is to bear witness to that which would otherwise go unnoticed, the namelessness/anonymity of contemporary city life, the nature and/or existence of miracle, the avoidance of overt interpersonal communication, and tea.