Interview with Mari Strachan Part 1 of 2

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by Mike

The View From Here Interview:
Mari Strachan

Mari Strachan has been immersed in books all her life. She has worked as a librarian in academic, school, public, private and prison libraries. She has also been a book reviewer, researcher, translator, copy writer and web editor. She and her husband live part-time on a tiny smallholding in the hills of Ceredigion, West Wales, and part-time on a narrowboat on the Grand Union Canal in London.
Mari was named as one of Waterstones New Voices for 09 earlier this year.


A small cappuccino with an extra shot and a sprinkling of chocolate, please.


A dark chocolate Florentine would be lovely.

Tell us something about yourself.

I look perfectly normal on the outside, considering how weird the inside of my head is.

What is your favourite way to spend an evening?

Sitting contentedly in the quiet of my parlour, reading. I don’t get to do that very often!

Do you have any favourite words or phrases?

I love being home so two of my favourite words are ‘cartref’ which is ’home’ and ‘hiraeth’ which has no exact English equivalent, but is that feeling of loss and longing you experience when you’re away from someone or something or someplace you love. My favourite English word is ‘melancholy’ and my current favourite English phrase is one my youngest son used to describe me when I was confused about something one time - ‘on tour with the Rolling Stones’ - I use it a lot! My current favourite Welsh phrase was written by our, then, national poet – Gwyneth Lewis – and is on the outside of the Welsh Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, ‘Creu gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen’ - it sends shivers down my spine, but it loses its alliterative music in translation to: Creating truth like glass from the furnace of song.

Can you tell us something about your book The Earth Hums in B Flat?

It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s even a bit Gothic in places. The Guardian called it ‘sober and sparkling’ (21.03.09). It’s told by a girl who doesn’t want to grow up because the adult world makes her uneasy. She deals with her unease by living in the world of her imagination, and trying to ignore what she doesn’t want to see or understand. But, when a local man disappears, everything becomes a great deal more complicated …

How did you get your publishing deal with Canongate and how did that feel?

First, I had to find an agent. Then my agent sent the novel around to publishers she thought might be interested in it, and two publishers expressed an interest at the same time. I liked what Jamie Byng and Anya Serota had to say about The Earth Hums and their plans for it and decided that Canongate was the publisher for me. After a year I’m even more certain that I made the right choice. How did I feel? Pleased and thankful.

How easy was it to find an agent to represent you?

I was lucky enough to find my agent fairly quickly. I’d had five rejection letters before I received the telephone call asking for the remainder of the book to be sent. I’d done my homework beforehand to find who might be interested in my book, but there was still a lot of luck involved, I’m sure – that the agent who might be interested had not just closed his or her list, for instance.

What was the most important thing you learned on the creative writing Masters you studied at Manchester Metropolitan University?

The most important thing I learnt was that it was OK to write the way I do: for years I had thought that my style was rubbish because it wasn’t like anybody else’s. It sounds daft in hindsight, but that was the way it was. The other important thing I learnt was to read fiction as a writer rather than a reader - to see the craft behind the writing.

You were named recently as one of Waterstone’s New Voices for this year, how did you hear about that and what was your reaction?

I heard before Christmas but there was a press embargo on the information! Neither I nor Canongate knew when it was going to be made official. I was convinced Waterstone’s were going to change their minds! But - phew! - they didn’t. So I was both pleased and relieved when it was announced in The Times at the end of February. Of all the accolades a writer can have, this is one of the best - prizes are nice to have, of course, but most are judged by four or five people, whereas the New Voices are chosen by lots of Waterstone’s booksellers, people who know about books.

Would you like to see the book in the Welsh language?

Well, most of it is in Welsh - it just happens to be written in English! Seriously, if it were to be turned into Welsh I would have re-write it rather than translate it. When Canongate bought The Earth Hums they acquired world rights except for Welsh translation rights, which I kept in the hope that one day I might have time to work on re-writing it.

There is an amazing scene in the book involving a fox fur. The image of which has stuck in my head! Do you have dramatic moments from your own childhood that stays with you and can you tell us about one of them?

I wish I had! I wish I could! My childhood was so ordinary (and so long ago!) that I don’t remember much about it. All the drama was in my imagination and the stories and poems and pretend newspapers I wrote and in the books I voraciously read. I’m not sure how I would have coped with all the drama Gwenni has in her life!

What kind of things ended up in your pretend newspapers?!

I can’t remember what I used to write about, but I remember carefully ruling in the columns, writing the ‘news’ in pencil, and drawing pictures to go with the stories, then sewing the pages together down the left hand side. I can’t remember anyone being remotely interested in reading my newspapers! I just enjoyed making them. I’ve always loved the physicality of books and paper and writing instruments – it’s probably why I still work that first draft in longhand, and why I would never be enticed by e-books!

Visit Mari's web site here.

Read Part 2 of this interview here.

Review of The Earth hums in B Flat tommorow.

A printed edition of this interview is available in May's Magazine here.

Photo Credit ( Modified ) : Adam Ifans


kathleenmaher said...

Wonderful interview.
When I was young, I used to wonder why there were no "intellectual" miracles. Why didn't some saintly young girl go to bed knowing only English and wake up fluent in Welsh?

cynthia newberry martin said...

Mike, your questions for Mari Strachan are exactly the questions I want to know the answers to. Thanks for a super interesting interview of MS, the best one on the web.

Mike French said...

Your welcome Cynthia - glad it hit the mark for you. :-)