Monday, 24 August 2009

Event Preview: Interview with Mari Strachan

We liked Mari Strachan's debut novel, 'The Earth Hums in B Flat' so much that we've invited her to come and talk about it at Mr B's on 16th September ( We're so excited about her impending visit that we've asked her a few taster questions. Here's what she had to say.....

Mr B: One of the things I loved about the 'The Earth Hums in B Flat' were the smaller characters who made the small-town Welsh community come alive. Do you have a favourite of those non-central characters and if so would you describe him/her in a few words?

Mari: I loved writing all the ‘smaller’ characters: each one had a history, although it never appeared in the book, but I guess it informed the character and made that character into a real person. My favourite is the farm-wife at Penrhiw Farm, Bessie Williams, with her soft and scented bosom and her non-stop talking. She’s lived at the farm since she was married and she’s of the same generation as Gwenni’s grandmother. She’s bewildered by all the changes that are taking place and uncomfortable with them. The farm is a little way outside the town and she doesn’t see anybody for days on end sometimes so when she’s in company she can’t stop talking. I see her as the Greek chorus in the book; she has a little speech in each of the three parts where her comments on what’s happening are spot on. I loved writing her, I thought she was kind and caring, and, although her appearances are few, I felt that she played an important role in the book as a comic character and as a commentator.

Mr B: If you had Gwenni’s tendency to fly at night and you swept over a literary event and saw yourself giving a reading from 'The Earth Hums' and answering questions, what interesting question would you want to hear an audience-member ask you that you haven’t had up until now?

Mari: This is cheating a bit – but I’ve just had a question (one among many!) from an Italian magazine (EH is to be published in Italy in September) which no-one has asked before about an aspect of the book of which I was not particularly aware. And this is it:
‘Gwenn, Bethan, Mam, Nain, Elin Evans, Alwenna, Catrin and Angharad etc...... The central and most relevant actors of the novel are women. Women who act, take decisions, make mistakes, bring on the plot of the novel..... It sounds that men are mostly "spectators", they watch and suffer the consequences of women's acts (like Tada, for example). What can you say about that?’
Well, what can I say about that? It’s fascinating isn’t it? I’ll have thought hard about it and will have written the answer by the 16th September and, if you like, I’ll share it with you all then and see what you think!
Mr B: On your website ( you’ve got a page called “Reading: A Page for Bookworms” with a photograph of a stack of books. It’s got a real range of titles - from Obama to Watchmen. Are they your books? Was that a random selection or can we get a good overview of your reading tastes from that photo?
Mari: A bit of a work in progress, that website! The books in the stack are mine, pulled off the shelves and from under chair cushions especially for this photograph. They are fairly representative of my reading tastes, which is quite catholic as I tend to read whatever takes my fancy. There are some books there which were to hand because I had/was about to read at events with their authors and had just been re-reading them. Maybe my addiction to ‘crime’ novels is slightly under-represented! I usually have more poetry books around to dip into than the couple in this stack. Watchmen was a present from my youngest son. I struggle with the combination of words and pictures in graphic novels, and I can’t think why that is – I was very fond of my ‘comics’ as a child.

Mr B: Another one on reading if I may….I guarantee our audience will be interested in asking about your influences and your all-time favourites and I won’t spoil their fun. But perhaps you could tell me a couple of things that you’re read and been impressed by this year in between all the interviews and events you’ve been doing since the release of “The Earth Hums”?

Mari: The ones that stand out are Pat Barker’s Life Class: no-one does this period better than she does with her pared down style which makes everything so moving, and which I so admire; Kate Atkinson’s When Will there be Good News: I’ve loved her convoluted plots and her clever style since I read Behind the Scenes…; and Fred Vargas’s The Chalk Circle Man (this is the first written of the Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg crime novels, though not the first published in English): these novels are the epitome of Frenchness for moi (who knows little about France or the French), Adamsberg is delicious, and the plots completely wacky – fantastique!
Mr B: We sometimes try to playfully theme the nibbles that we serve with an event. What nibbles would your wonderful heroine Gwenni like to see at your event do you think?
Mari: Gwenni has such a sweet tooth, doesn’t she? I think she’d love a big chocolate cake with lashings of buttercream (my mouth is watering) or maybe biscuits like Mrs Sergeant Jones’s famous vanilla biscuits. If that is just overly sickly for an evening do with a glass of wine, then I’m sure she’d be quite happy with something made with red cheese. But absolutely NO minced mouse sandwiches, thank you.
I’m very much looking forward to my visit to Mr B’s Emporium and to meeting you all and answering any questions you may have.