Marion is one of the authors who will be appearing in our Resolutions anthology November 2021. I'm delighted to have her on my blog today.
What do you write? Why this in particular?
I mainly write dark fantasy and historical fiction. My first published novel, Angorichina, was about a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1930s South Australia, and the one that I’m writing now is about ancient Mesopotamia. However, I also love to retell myths and fairy tales. Historical fiction with a twist of magic, such as my retelling of The Children of Lir, which is an ancient Irish legend.
What got you started on writing in the first place?
I’ve loved writing stories ever since I was little. I remember picking up a book from the library in primary school and it was missing the last page, so the teacher asked me to write an ending for it. I was always attracted to dark tales and abandoned places. I share a love of horror with my dad, so most of my early stories were about vampires and misadventure. I have very happy memories of going to the public library to choose children’s books and hours spent browsing the shelves in Dillons, which was the big-name book chain in the UK before Waterstones. I guess I was born between the pages of a book.
Do you have a particular routine?
I really dislike routines, I can never stick to them. I try to get in a couple of thousand words a day, but I really don’t beat myself up if I don’t. I prefer to write at home where the kettle is within easy reach and nobody is going to distract me – except my cats, who are very vocal around feeding time. There’s a lovely café up the road, run by my friend, but the problem with living in Kigali is that it’s more like a village than a city, so you’re constantly bumping into people you know. You can’t really say, ‘leave me alone, I’m trying to write!’ So, better to write at home, then go out for a drink afterwards.
Do you have a dedicated working space?
I wrestle working space away from the junk on my desk. I am a self-confessed atomic bomb, my house designated a disaster zone. My laptop is currently balanced on top of two microphones, a GoPro, a roll of toilet paper, a pen stacker and – for some unknown reason – a pot of ‘butter soft’ cocoa butter. But, somehow, things manage to get done.
When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact?
I think I’ve always been a writer, in terms of ‘someone who writes,’ but I became an author when my first novel was published in 2011. I had three novels come out in quick succession, so I felt I’d earned the right to say ‘author’ at that point. But I don’t go to parties and introduce myself as that. I never know what to say when people ask, ‘what do you do?’ I currently work as a writer and ghostwriter, I have a development company working with international NGOs, I’m a university lecturer, and a part-time piano technician. What I ‘do’ depends on the day of the week. Generally, I prefer to avoid the question altogether. I think I prefer ‘writer’ to ‘author’ because I feel it holds more possibilities. I’ve authored novels, but I write all sorts of things, and I might go on to write anything.
How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you're doing?
My family are super supportive. Both of my parents love reading and I grew up surrounded by books. My dad is an avid fan of crime fiction and took me off to Cheltenham Literature Festival each year to listen to the likes of Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman and Victoria Hislop. I’m lucky to have that kind of support. I don’t feel restrained. I can write dark characters, murders, saucy scenes and strange events without worrying about giving my family a heart attack. I think it would be very difficult to be fully creative if you constantly had to tread on eggshells and worry about what your family thought. You need a lot of space and freedom when you’re making stuff up.
What are you most proud of in your writing?
Maybe the progress I’ve made. Like most writers, I cringe at my backlist. I rarely recommend my earlier books because I desperately want to edit them again. But around 2015, with Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran, I feel like I really found my voice and knew what I was doing. I still falter now and then, but I’m a lot better at making the story sing. Even on a bad writing day, I feel what I throw down is acceptable. More recently, with the lecturing position, I’ve been able to create and deliver both technical writing and creative writing courses to undergraduates. If I’ve managed to encourage one person to go off and start writing stories, then I’d be very proud of that.
How do you get on with editing and research?
For historical fiction, I research heavily. That can take months before I even start to write, with regular breaks along the way when I fall down rabbit holes for a few days. A while ago, my friend David Southwell developed a fictional county in England called Hookland, where folklore lives and breathes. ‘Ghost soil,’ as he calls it. It’s a collaborative artistic world for writers, photographers and musicians. I set a paranormal novel there. It wasn’t historical in the traditional sense, but it took just as much research, because I needed to sift through all of David’s notes and maps to make sure I didn’t contradict anything or muck up the timeline. So, it’s a historical novel about the history of a place that doesn’t exist.
I also enjoy editing, most of the time. Filling up a blank page is excruciating, but once you’ve got something solid to work with, it’s a pleasure to sand it down and polish it up. I love the Neil Gaiman quote, “the second draft is the step in the process where you make it look like you knew what you were doing in the first draft.” I just wish you had the chance to do that with every conversation in life.
Do you have any goals for the future?
Like every writer – get my current project finished. There’s always another project and another project in the pipeline. I’m trying to do a bit of YouTubing, though I must admit, it’s a bit uncomfortable being in front of the camera rather than behind it. I’d like to do a few interviews with publishing friends in Rwanda, put more of a spotlight on that. I’m also hoping to start a new ghostwriting project later in the year. I get a huge kick out of helping other people to get their stories down on paper. I’d like to do more collaborating, but you need the right match of energy and ideas – someone you can bounce off. I try not to plan too far ahead and just see what comes along.
Which writers have inspired you?
A huge range of people. I learn something from every book I read. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni showed me that poetry and prose are not mutually exclusive, Ian McEwan’s short story Butterflies taught me about the power of misdirection, and Aimé Césaire taught me that things don’t have to make sense in order to be beautiful. The learning process never ends.