Saturday, 6 April 2013

Melissa Harrison

I when I last met Melissa Harrison she was holding a room full of pissed students enthralled as she read with quiet intensity from her book CLAY. She didn't win the literary death match - there are showier more peacocky types for that -  but she did get people to fall in her love with her writing. Of course she did. 

What marks Melissa out is the way she notices everything. Absolutely everything. Most good writing is about paying attention to what's around you and CLAY is startling in the precision of its observation of the natural life that teems, flocks, swarms, grows and dies around us. Human beings tend to focus on their most immediate concerns not taking much account of the fact that we are just one part of a fragile system, which we might well screw up with all our blind stumbling.

So Melissa's book is an urban book, a city book, but it'salso  a nature book. A book where the squirrels and the birds and the foxes are viscerally present with all their hot stink in  their own whole other city in the midst of ours.

She's smart too - as you're about to discover from her answers below...

Can I have your autobiography in EXACTLY 50 words (not 51, not 49)?

I think it’s probably impossible to do it in exactly 50 words and still take in being the youngest of six children, going to a comprehensive school and then to Oxford, working in book publishing and magazines and living in South London with my husband, Anthony, and rescue dog, Scout.

Why should people read your book CLAY?

Because it’s about noticing, and noticing has the power to bring something genuinely transformative into our lives.

What is your most pressing concern right this minute?

Whether there are any Yorkshire teabags in the office.

How is being a woman who writes different from being a man who writes?

Impossible to say, as I’ve only ever been a woman! My guess is not at all; motherhood may create a difference, but that’s a separate question.

Who – in life or writing – do you most admire?

Too many people to mention – but when it comes to literature I find Hilary Mantel’s current prose the closest thing I can imagine to taking flight. 

Why do we need the Women's Prize for Literature?

It’s my understanding that while women read books by men and women, men overwhelmingly choose books by men. Add to that the fact that we all (both men and women) tend to recruit, promote and generally identify with people who are similar to us (hence the perpetuation of men-only boardrooms) and you have a playing field that isn’t yet level. Ask me again when it is.

Would you eat a mucky fat sandwich?

Absolutely. I have a fairly undiscriminating and resolutely carnivorous palate.

What will the next book be about? (does it have a title yet?)

It’s about landscape and belonging. It does have a title, but an obscure sense of literary decorum prevents me telling anyone what it is until it’s finished. 

If you could be anywhere right now, it would be...?

Deep in the British countryside on a warm June afternoon, a quiet pub within an hour’s walk, my camera and a good book in my knapsack and nothing to do but walk, and look, and dream.

Tell me something I don't know...

Despite a) being a keen amateur naturalist and b) being married to one, I am terrified of ants.

CLAY is published by Bloomsbury. - you know what to do...

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