Fourteen months after the last time, Fatea had the opportunity to catch up with singer songwriter Emily Maguire in Newcastle, to chat about her new book, her recent radio admission, mental health and her upcoming tour with a well known name...
HM: Hi Emily. It is so great to see you up in Newcastle again. It feels like ages.
EM: It’s been a while, hasn’t it. Over a year?
HM: Last September, so fourteen months. Wow.
EM: Really? It has been a while. It’s good to be back. Here’s your copy of the book.
HM: Oh, great, thanks, I can’t wait to read it!
EM: Don’t feel you have to read it all at once. It’s kind of a dip and in and out book. There’s the prologue which kind of tells my story, then diary entries, song lyrics, poetry, you’ll see...
HM: Good for bathtime reading then?
EM: Yes, or the toilet! (laughs)
HM: Ok, well, would you just like to tell me about how the book came about? It’s called Start Over Again, the same as one of your songs. Why is that?
EM: Well, the song, Start Over Again is basically my life story in three and a half minutes and as the book talks about those events...
HM: So how did the book come about?
EM: Well, I don’t really know. I just had all this writing. I’ve always written, ever since I was a kid, even when I was really young, I’d write stories that I’d start and never finish, and poetry, too. Then when I was a teenager I had a journal. I wouldn’t write in it every day, just if something was going on. Basically I’d write if I was happy or I was sad and I’d write when I was insane and when I was in mental hospitals . I ended up with about thirty journals and all these ideas for lyrics for songs too. One day my partner, Christian, just said “I think you should type all this up.” That was all he said, and I did. It was quite harrowing, as I hadn’t read some of it since I’d written it and some of it was writing from times when I wasn’t well at all, when I’d been having a breakdown. It was a bit like kind of opening your closet and pulling every skeleton out and looking at them, which, funnily enough, makes them a lot less scary. You know, to actually confront your past like that. So in a way it would be quite cathartic and at times I’d be like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Christian would just say to just keep writing and right up to the last minute I didn’t know if I was going to publish it. As you know, I’ve done a lot of radio and press interviews and I’ve never talked about it before and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do it. I’ve had friends tell me if I talk about this I’d never play in America; you know, there is still that huge amount of stigma about mental illness and I did wonder if I was going to kill my career stone dead by coming out about this. I wondered if every producer at Radio 2 who currently likes my stuff would think, ‘Well, she’s a nutter, I’m not gonna get her on my programme again’ and all those sorts of possibilities.
HM: They haven’t though.
EM: No. In the end I just thought ‘Stuff it.’ It was launched on Radio 2 on World Mental Health Day – 10.10.10 and the response the programme got – it was launched on Good Morning Sunday and they trailed it the week before – they got so many emails and texts in response to it and they read some out on air the following week - and I just got so many messages - emails and comments on Facebook, people saying they’d had a manic episode and never told anyone, and it means so much that I’d come out and said this and was really brave. Everybody said I was brave which is scary after a while but it’s been amazing, it really has, to me coming out about it and I’m so glad that I did. (smiles huge smile)
HM: No regrets then?
EM: No, none at all, because, well, someone put it really perfectly the other night when I was doing a gig – they said it’s added a whole new dimension to my songs, now people can understand where they come from.
HM: That’s exactly what I was just thinking. I mean, you’ve said things and certain lyrics have suggested, but now its out in the open, the lyrics do have a whole new layer of meaning.
EM: Exactly. If you take a song like I’d Rather Be, which was played on Radio 2 a lot earlier this year, they’d think it was just a chirpy little song, or whatever, but actually I wrote that just a few months after coming out of hospital for the first time, when I’d just been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. When I came out of hospital, I was absolutely terrified because I’d just lost my mind completely and they’d told me that if it happened again they didn’t know if they could bring me back and they’d diagnosed this mental illness that was incurable and all the rest of it. But a few months later I started to feel strong again and thought, you know, that actually there is an upside to this, there’s a silver lining to the cloud and the silver lining is music. I wouldn’t write songs the way that I do if I didn’t have it. So I’d Rather Be is saying I’d rather have it than not have it – it’s choices and that’s the choice that I’ve made. Or at least the one that I make when I’m feeling well. (laughs)
HM: That’s an amazing place to be able to get to though, isn’t it?
EM: Exactly, exactly. That’s the point of the song. The song doesn’t really have half the power it does if you don’t know where it’s coming from. Though that’s kind of nonsense, because the thing about songs to be careful with, from my point of view, is it’s not actually about me. You know, if I sing you a song and it resonates with you, it’s because it’s your song now. You know, it’s your story, you really relate to something in it, it’s yours. That was a bit of a worry that if it was all about me it might spoil it.
HM: I’m smiling because that’s pretty much what Gretchen Peters always says – that songs become ours – we were just talking about her when we were chatting before.
EM: yeah? It’s true though isn’t it? I mean, all my favourite songs by other artists – they’re all about me. (laughs) You fall in love with music don’t you? I mean, I remember when I first heard Suzanne Vega’s song, Gypsy, I loved that song. I went to see her live in London and just sat there with tears pouring. When I was sixteen I went to live in France and used to sing it every day but I forgot a verse and had no music with me at the time. So yeah that song really resonated but I didn’t know why Suzanne Vega wrote it. In fact, I found out last year why she wrote it and it kind of spoiled it a little bit. (laughs)
HM: That’s probably true of lots of songs.
EM: Yeah, maybe, though from an interest level – but the feedback I’ve had from fans has been really positive.
HM: I guess it explains that one line you just didn’t quite get.
EM: Yeah, an example is Keep Walking – Terry Wogan would play it on radio 2 and everyone would say it was about talcum powder – you know, there’s a verse where it talks about ‘She’s high Sunday night, another line will see the light...’ and people were thinking it was about cocaine. Actually, it’s about a manic episode, about Bipolar Disorder ; the traffic lights changing colour and everything. I didn’t really even realise what it was about until much later on. I didn’t know why I said another line would see the light as lots of lines just fell out onto the page. It was about writing. When I get on a high I write masses, lyrics just pool in my head all the time. So that’s what it’s about (laughs) and there’s old Wogan thinking that’s not what I’m talking about...
HM: I also noticed the other day your Radio 4 interview with Woman’s Hour is still up there. That was a while ago wasn’t it?
EM: Yeah, wow, really, that’s cool. Normally you can only listen back on radio for a week.
HM: Yeah and you remember the day after the week’s up, every time.
EM: Yeah (laughs)
HM: So, what’s the plan with the book now then, is it just available through the website?
EM: No, no, you can get it from my website, or from Amazon, Waterstones, you know us, we’re very into the whole DIY thing..that’s the great thing about the internet and living in this day and age...but you can order it from bookshops too.
HM: So which section does it come under in a bookshop then? Music? Health? Biography?
EM: I don’t know, I don’t know. It comes under a lot of sections. It even has poetry.
HM: Where would you put it?
EM: I don’t know, you know. I really don’t know. It’s a lot to do with breakdowns and searching for something, so I guess mind body spirit would be relevant, too. My whole aim of it is to put a positive spin on mental illness. It’s based on the song which is about the three major breakdowns I’ve had – each time you break down, you have to pick up the pieces and start over again. Anyone who’s had anything happen to them, grief or anything, you know, you can feel like it’s the end of the world and you don’t know how you’re going to move on from it. Yet as long as you keep going, always it turns out to be a new beginning. It’s not the end at all, it’s the start of a new chapter but it’s very, very traumatic while that change is happening. For me being Buddhist has helped me survive that, as the thing with Bipo9lar is after the high you have a depression. To me, killing myself was never an option – it’d be like throwing yourself out of the frying pan into the fire and there are a lot of people who don’t have that view on life and death. So they don’t survive it always. I accept the fact that I will have more episodes because that’s the condition that I’ve got, so it is quite likely that I will lose my mind again. Although it’s something that scares me, to be honest with you, it’s something that I’ve got to accept may happen and each time that it happens I know that I can get through it. I’ve been there enough times to know that I can pick myself up and move on and get on with my life again and find some positive in it as well.
HM: Can I ask how long it usually lasts?
EM: Yeah, well, it varies. A high can be a few months in the making or it can happen very quickly. The depression that follows usually lasts quite a few months. As an example, I had a breakdown at the beginning of this year, when the single was on the radio and I was doing artist of the month gigs for Caffe Nero. I was supposed to be doing a tour and I had the crisis team coming round every morning to give me drugs then at night I’d go and do my gig and smile at everyone and pretend I was normal.
HM: Timing is always great isn’t it?
EM:Well, it was quite something. I think I probably started to get ill in November last year and it reached the peak in January when I was referred to mental health services - I’m on drugs all the time, but they increased it to a dose that started to stabilise me. Then the depression came and lasted about three months so by about May I was starting to feel a bit better and then I had writer’s block – that always follows after a depression, having written so much in January while I was high. Then I wrote a song in August, so probably about six months cycle. That was without hospitalisation which is pretty traumatic so I was really pleased I was able to be treated at home.
HM: Do you think you know the signs now and caught it earlier?
EM: Yeah I think so. I went to GP who referred me. Before I’ve gotten to a psychosis before anything was done.
HM: Do you know what your triggers are?
EM: In the past it’s been a crisis or upset, but envioronmental factors can affect me, and if I mess around with my drugs, and stress...I’m learning to manage it. I have Bipolar type 1, which is the most extreme form of the disorder. Most people who have that are continually cycling with great delusional highs and very severe depressions, but I’m remarkably stable most of the time. I started meditating too, after being diagnosed when I was twenty three – I had my first breakdown at sixteen. I started with five minutes of meditation and have built it up. It has helped me so much just to have a bit of stillness and quiet to focus on what my day will be like.
HM: So, what’s next for Emily Maguire?
EM: Well, I’m writing and working on the new album and we’ve just confirmed a five month tour next year, starting in February opening for Dennis Locorriere from Dr. Hook. So that’s exciting.
HM: Wow, another great tour then.
EM: Yeah. I know. I’ll let you know if it’ll bring me back up here!
HM: Yes, do! Well, I’ll let you go and get sorted. Thanks so much for that and for the book.
EM: Thank you. Let me know what you think, and see you after the gig?
HM: Of course, see you then. Enjoy it!
EM: We will!
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