Marianne Holmes’ debut novel A Little Bird Told Me is a great read that pulls you in and keeps you guessing – see my review from earlier in the year. I’m rapt to have Marianne answer some ticklish questions on this edition of Last Word of the Week.
Welcome to Last Word of the Week, Marianne!
Marianne: Thanks so much for having me, Clare, and congratulations on the publication of The Ruined Land.
Thank you! It’s very exciting, but let’s talk about you today (or this post will be VERY long!). Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book really ought to know?
Ooh, that’s a hard one, I’m not sure readers need to know anything about me at all! However, part of A Little Bird Told Me is set during the British heatwave of 1976 when I was the same age as my main character, Robyn. I have a particularly strong memory of that summer because my family moved back to the UK after a couple of years in Germany. We found huge cracks had appeared in our lawn, the tarmac on the roads melted and there were ladybirds everywhere. The hot weather was wonderful for us kids but did make everyday life harder for the adults.
We also owned a TV for the first time and I remember suddenly being exposed to pop music, kids’ programmes and lots of American shows and films. It was quite a revelation!
That probably explains the great sense of setting in your novel – you were almost there! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
There’s a scene early in A Little Bird Told Me that happens after the nine-year-old Robyn is given a gift by a stranger. She’s too tired to tell her mother about it that night and instead asks for her favourite bedtime story about how the family came to live in their home. The story is so familiar to Robyn that she joins in with the telling of it.
I love the way families create these little narratives about who they are and how soothing children find this kind of repetition. In the story, it’s a nice little moment before Robyn starts learning the truth behind her mother’s tale.
Yes, that’s a great family insight. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
I think the child Robyn would be fascinated but adult Robyn would be a mix of furious and resentful. At the beginning of the story, she’s trapped by the events of her past and if she discovered that none of that was real I can see a fair bit of foot stomping.
Oh yes, I can see that! Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?
This is such a difficult one and changes every day. I love The Secret History by Donna Tartt, All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and anything by Iain Banks, Umberto Eco, Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood… I could go on for pages!
My favourite reads over the summer have been Circe by Madeline Miller and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. I have always had a soft spot for myths and legends but these new retellings from a female perspective combine fantastic writing and innovation and that’s inspirational.
I agree entirely. Some great tips there, thank you! Now, take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Ten years ago, I had a super active toddler and was coming to terms with a second miscarriage and the death of my Dad. I was pretty exhausted, feeling guilty that I wasn’t like those other mums that set up new businesses in the evening after the baby’s in bed. The thought of writing a book was a very distant dream indeed.
So, I’d tell myself, and anyone else in similar circumstances, to try and worry a little less, be kind to yourself when you need it and enjoy the small moments. A year later I was pregnant with my second child, which was wonderful and unexpected, and my oldest was starting at playgroup. It was that extra time at home with the baby that allowed me the space to think about writing.
So much can change in ten years, can’t it? Kindness is essential, especially to yourself at such times. What’s next for you in the world of writing?
I’m editing another novel at the moment or will be just as soon as the kids are back at school this week. It’s about a young woman who, partly out of loneliness and partly because of her own history, is drawn into the public outpouring of concern and grief surrounding the case of a missing child. Her involvement leads to a series of deceptions that carry her deeper and deeper into trouble.
Oooh, that sounds interesting! Do let us know when it gets to print. And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
Hmm, I’m not sure whether I should be answering with a character that I think is most like me or a character that I would most like to be. That would make quite a big difference!
Reading Circe right in the middle of school summer holidays this year, I found a passage where she discovers that the island she’s been exiled to is quite beautiful, has all the wildlife she needs to pursue her sorcery and, to top it off, her home is self-cleaning and her food replenished fresh every day. I had a very strong urge to be Circe in that moment!
Excellent answer! Thanks so much, Marianne, for sharing with me on Last Word of the Week.
A Little Bird Told Me: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Bird-Told-Me-ourselves-ebook/dp/B07FB4D86F