An afternoon with Marina Lewycka

An afternoon with Marina Lewycka

An afternoon with Marina Lewycka

‘It had always been my dream to be a writer, and obviously having your dream come true is fantastic. But there is something a bit terrible about it as well, because once your dream has come true, what else is there? It was your dream and it becomes your job, and then it’s not a dream any more.’ — Marina Lewycka

Guildford Book Festival is now a major event on the literary and book scene. It caters for all tastes, which means there is of little of interest to me or it clashes, but I can usually find one or two events to attend. One such event was Marina Lewycka at the Electric Theatre on the banks of the River Wey in Guildford.

Marina Lewycka is the author of three books: her debut novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Two Caravans and her recently published We Are All Made of Glue. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian would make a brilliant and witty short story, but there is insufficient material for a novel. Two Caravans is brilliant and does for illegal immigration and the food industry what Charles Dickens did for child labour and the Victorian underclass and more recently Paulo Coelho has done with The Winner Stands Alone for the cult of celebrity and the fashion and film industry.

Last year I recommended that Guildford Book Festival invited Marina Lewycka, therefore the least I could do was turn up. This I did, with a pile of books for signing.

The event took place in the Electric Theatre in Guildford. My eye was caught by books on the tables. At first I thought, aha BookCrossing my leaving books has been followed up, well almost. Guildford Book Festival had left books lying around for people to take away, read and pass on. A nice gesture I thought, and I suggested they took this one step further and registered the books on BookCrossing. I picked up a couple I liked the look of with the promise I would register and pass on.

Guildford Book Festival had also arranged a nice display of books for sale. I was pleased that the books were at a discount. This I am used to when I go to events with an author. It is an extra incentive, buy a book and get it signed by the author.

Last year I was appalled that the books were not at a discount, an opportunity missed I thought. But that was down to Waterstone’s. This year, Guildford Book Festival are the booksellers. Later I was to walk past the two large Waterstone’s bookstores in town. No mention of the book festival, no window display. As an insider confided to me: ‘it’s embarrassing.’

Marina Lewycka talked about her recently published third novel, We Are All Made of Glue. A dotty old woman whose house is collapsing, greedy estate agents trying to muscle in, flashbacks to the founding of the state of Israel and the occupation of Palestine.

Marina Lewycka read a moving account of Israel soldiers emptying a Palestinian village, atrocities and terror, to ensure everyone fled to neighbouring Arab countries. Based as she said on a real incident. I talked to her about this afterwards. I was impressed when she said she had been to occupied Palestine to research her book. If through a novel, it can lead more people to know the truth of Israeli occupation it can only be for the betterment of the occupied. I suggested she read The Fateful Triangle by Noam Chomsky and the relevant chapter in Freedom Next Time by John Pilger. Maybe when the paperback edition of We Are All Made of Glue comes out next March she adds these in a bibliography.

Where do novels come from? Marina Lewycka was asked this indirectly. She said the characters write themselves, they have a life of their own and tell their own story. I have heard much the same from other writers. In her case, drawn from real life. This can have a downside, as she found with A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. She drew heavily upon her own family, only expecting the book to be circulated within the family and a small readership beyond. Little did she expect to have a best seller on her hands. The quirky old lady in We Are All Made of Glue is based upon an old lady who lived opposite. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian has not gone down too well in Ukraine!

In researching A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian Marina Lewycka had posted a note on the net. To her great surprise she learnt she had family in Ukraine. Her own mother and father had left Ukraine for England in the aftermath of the Second World War.

A brief mention was made of her fourth book, but no details.

Later, whilst signing books, I asked her about creative writing courses. She had done Masters Degree in Creative Writing and it was through the course she had met her agent. The advice of Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho is that you do not need these courses, that you do as he did, knock on doors until you find a publisher, as that was what he did with The Alchemist, which twenty years after first publication has recently celebrated two years in the New York Times best seller list. Marina Lewycka disagreed. She said without the contacts you get through a creative writing course it is these days impossible to get published.

Marina Lewycka demonstrates, and to this list could be added Alexander McCall Smith and Paulo Coelho, you do not need a massive marketing budget or be an empty headed celebrity with nothing worthwhile to say to sell books. If your writing is good enough, you will spread by word of mouth. Paulo Coelho has taken this one step further with Pirate Coelho, he puts copies of his books on-line for readers to download for free!

Wish list for next year: Paulo Coelho, Orhan Pamuk, Arundhati Roy, Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n, Pascal Mercier, Alyson Hallet, William Brodrick, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Steve Galloway, Mark Slouka …

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