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In Conversation With... Sara McAlpine


In Conversation With... Sara McAlpine

Sara McAlpine is a bit of a Renaissance woman: writer, editor, lecturer and content creator, she currently works as Fashion Features Editor at ELLE and as an Editor-at-Large at Cloakroom magazine. Here, she talks quarantine sanity, creativity and chorba.


Apparently the film Contagion has been one of the most popular movies rented online. Have you been watching disaster movies or reading dystopian literature?

Quite ashamed to admit that I'm guilty of adding to Contagion's stream-count - worse is that I paid to stream it on Amazon Prime before they dropped it on Netflix. Maybe it's driven by morbid curiosity, imagining how things might play out. Maybe it's that I love Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, and Gwyneth, and was shocked I hadn't seen it. Or both. Disaster movies, I can get on board with, but books... not so much. I reach for satire when things feel rough, or for writers known for their wit - anything that will make me laugh. Evelyn Waugh will always do that, so I've got through Scoop, a satire of Fleet Street, and a collection of his short stories. Corrigan by Caroline Blackwood too ('comedy of manners' in the blurb sold it to me). Glad to have received Ottessa Moshfegh's new book before this. All of that being said... it's hard to read right now. Stream Eastenders if it makes you feel better (it does).

"I reach for satire when things feel rough, or for writers known for their wit - anything that will make me laugh."


What makes a good self-isolator? Can you share some of the things that are helping you personally stay sane in this time?

Thank you for assuming I'm succeeding at staying sane! Honestly, I've found it difficult. I chose a job that allows me to connect with people, to collaborate, and make conversation part of my work as a writer. I'm happy in my own company provided I've chosen to be alone. So I miss having the option to be in the company of others. That means you can't get me off the phone right now - whether it's calling people to catch up, or having FaceTime on in the background for idle chat with my family while we also do other things. If you like to journal to process and keep track of your thoughts, but lack the mental capacity right now (me), I've found the Voice Memo app helpful. You feel like a 'dictaphone douche', but honestly, it's as effective as writing things down, and you can also technically 'journal' while walking. It's cathartic.


Any good ideas for a soup?

There is nothing like chorba, a tomato-based Algerian soup with chickpeas. I say that because my mother is Algerian, and I enjoy her shouting instructions down the phone. It's traditionally served with lamb, but I skip the meat.

We’re in the middle of a global crisis and it can be difficult to see the value of creativity with all the issues facing society, what do you think the importance of creativity is in times like these?

I think of creativity as a form of connectivity - be it with yourself, using creativity as an outlet for your thoughts and frustrations, or with others by just having conversations that lead to new ideas. And those ideas can be new ways of showing collections, or new ways of supporting others when things are difficult. Ideas are as valid as physical output, and creative thinking can be something that offers solutions to challenges, whether they relate to our work or broader social concerns - or both.


You’re an editor at Cloakroom magazine, which explores the relationship between spaces and the people that inhabit them. At a time when everyone is being asked to stay home, do you think that we can build spaces that reflect different identities – what’s the difference between a ‘work desk’ and a ‘kitchen desk’ if they are the same space?

Oh god, that's important isn't it - just having clear boundaries in place so you don't feel like you're constantly working. There's no 'one trick fits all' when it comes to feeling comfortable in your space, which is why Cloakroom is so interested in exploring the spaces of others. They reveal a lot about a person's quirks - the things you really want to know. They're also all different. So all I'll say is do what works for you, as far as having clear boundaries go. But don't bring work into the bedroom. If space is an issue, and you have to do everything from one room, let the difference between a 'work desk' and your general desk (a home for the stack of magazines you haven't read yet... or beauty products) be in the set-up ritual. Signal the start of the day by setting-up your laptop, or anything else you need, at a specific time. Then signal the end of the day by packing it all up. Maybe go for a walk when the working day ends, so you feel like you've 'left the office' - and don't check your emails from that point.


Our local bookshop is putting together book care packets for people in isolation - are there any good ideas from your local community that have caught your attention…

Totally. There have been lots of 'small things', which feel no less important - notes coming through the door asking people if they need help if they're self-quarantined; people sharing printouts with the numbers of mental health support-lines, reminding others they're not alone, even if it feels like they are. There's more of a sense of community than ever before.


What song would you like to add to the Completedworks playlist?

My pandemic listening is low-brow. For the sake of saving face, I'll pretend I've just been listening to Black Magic by Jarvis Cocker. But I have also been listening to Nervous Breakdown by Black Flag. And Dua Lipa.


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