INTERVIEW withLAURA MARNEY
David Ramos Fernandes
Soon after the publication of her second bestselling novel, Nobody
Loves A Ginger Baby, Glasgow author Laura Marney transplanted herself to Barcelona for
three summer months to begin work on her eagerly anticipated third novel, Only Strange
People Go To Church. Having spent a year living in Spain prior to this, Barcelona has
now become her home away from home. Against the odds, TBR caught her between a devastating
work schedule and the explosive Correfoc, part of Barcelonas annual Mercè festival.
First of all, why Barcelona?
I spent a few months living in Majorca before moving here a few years ago. I like
Majorca, but the winter months can get you down. I was watching TV one night and they had
a programme showing the top ten destinations in Europe. Barcelona looked great. I planned
to live in Majorca over the summer, then stay in Barcelona through the winter, even though
I didnt know anyone here. But in the end I just stayed on.
Ive always been a Hispanophile. I love the language, the culture, food,
everything. Years ago, when I was a student in Glasgow, I met my hero, Bernard McLaverty,
and I told him how I wanted to move to Spain and make a living as a writer. Now, every
writer starts out with some dream or other, and so few of them, no matter how good they
might be, actually manage it. I think hed probably heard that sort of patter before,
but to his credit he wished me good luck and asked me to send him a postcard. So, a few
years later, when I got a book deal and moved to Spain, I did.
Having lived most of your life in Glasgow, how much of the city is present in your
Its hard to say. My first novel was set mostly in the Highlands, and my second
only uses Glasgow as a backdrop, but in all honesty it could have been set in any modern
city. That said, my characters do tend to speak with Glaswegian, or at least Scottish,
phrases or turns of phrase, so the influence no doubt lies there. That and maybe the
I would agree. Your last novel, Nobody Loves a Ginger Baby, balances black
comedy with a tragedy
that wonderfully verges on the absurd, a style reminiscent of a Scottish film called Orphans,
also set in Glasgow. Might you describe this as a consciously Glaswegian, or maybe even
Scottish, style of humour?
Well. First of all, Im very flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as Orphans.
I think its a great film. But as far as there being a consciously Glaswegian or
Scottish style of humour, I dont know. Maybe. Where I come from its not
considered cool to moan or take yourself too seriously, and if you have problems you make
light of them. Thats what I try and do, or at least thats the way it comes
out; that people have problems but theyll use humour to deal with them. Theyll
see the humour in a tragedy. Theyre not self-pitying characters, or at least I hope
In your debut novel No Wonder I Take A Drink, the central character, Trisha,
discards her city life and job working as a drugs rep, and moves away to a remote Highland
cottage. How close was her experience to your own?
In as much as Trisha was a single parent with a teenage son, working as a drugs rep,
then yes, those were my experiences that were useful for the story; and of course there
were plenty of situations in the book, as ridiculous as they may sound, that did actually
happen to me or friends of mine. But on the whole, as far as the back story and plot is
concerned, that was fictional.
The idea to write that particular book was accidental. I was on holiday in the
Highlands when I ran over a sheep. At the time I didnt know what to do. The poor
thing was dragging itself across the road on its front legs when luckily a farmer drove by
and stopped to help. It wasnt his sheep, but he managed to calm me down, saying this
sort of thing happened all the time. He kept trying to lift the sheep onto its back legs,
like he was adjusting a table, but it was no use. The legs mustve been broken.
Anyway, he walked round the back of his truck and pulled out a rifle and said,
Ill be with you in a second, Ive just got to sort this out first.
Then he walked over to a nearby ditch, and inside was this huge stag lying injured. It
looked serious, and god knows how long it had been in there, so he had to put it out of
its misery. But it struck me that, one minute I was driving along the road singing to the
radio, and the next I was standing over a ditch splattered with blood.
It was an unpleasant experience right enough, but as you do, when you make it into an
anecdote, you add details. You embellish and exaggerate until it becomes funnier with
every telling. That story grew into a collection of anecdotes about the Highlands, and
from there I simply needed to add Trishas story.
The use of the Highlands as a setting was deliberate then?
Yes, very much so. My experience of the Highlands was at odds with the idyllic,
shortbread-tin reputation its often given. What I discovered was nature in the raw.
And this wasnt just me. I had friends who moved to the Highlands to escape the
stress of living in a city, and instead only encountered the stress of living in a rural
enviroment. By relating their experiences, I then thought I could try and subvert the
Im also interested in the idea of people being isolated, and the Highlands were
perfect because that made Trisha physically as well as socially isolated. There was also
plenty of comedy to be had from a city innocent being stuck in the countyside.
Themes of isolation and alienation are prevalent throughout your two novels. Why are
you so drawn to them?
It shocks me that, for all the opportunities we have to socialise and communicate,
there is a real and noticable lack of community in the way we live. When I was a wee girl
most people seemed to live within extended families; my aunties lived with my granny,
everyone lived amongst each other. Then there came a sort of nuclear family, just the
husband, wife and kids, and now it all seems to have dissolved into single parent
families; everyone living alone in wee boxes. I feel weve all become isolated.
Its something that affects me, and continues to affect me, so I want to discuss it.
Even my next book revolves around the idea of isolation, but more specifically on how
religion tries to replace that sense of community in society. Its a shame that
religion has become uncool. Not only are many people embarrassed to admit they have a
belief in a particular religion, but many of us are also deeply suspicious of those who
declare themselves to be a Christian, for instance. All in all, its a wee bit
worrying how weve lost this communal life.
Its interesting that your novels centre around socially acceptable coping
mechanisms. Your first book deals with alcoholism, the second with the dependence on
anti-depressants, and now you plan to discuss religion in your third. Is there any
significance in this?
I read somewhere that the first thing to remember is that life is hard, and
that alone is as much as you can expect. And once youve accepted that, life becomes
easier, because you realise that life is not just supposed to be all sunshine and roses.
We have this modern expectation of happiness; were all desperate to be happy, and if
were not, then we feel cheated or think there must be something wrong. But in fact,
not being happy is the norm.
Its understandable that people use alcohol and anti-depressants as a way of
trying to find that elusive happiness. I mean, we all do, but inevitably all that does,
especially when taken to extremes, is make things worse. Because, while youre
dealing with that problem, youre neglecting all your other problems.
Youre forgetting that life is just hard, end of story.
When I was growing up it wasnt considered strange that most fathers were
alcoholics. Everyone I knew had alcoholism in their family and at the time I thought it
was just that generation, but now that Ive grown up, I realise that simply
wasnt true. It almost seems to be a natural progression. I mean, this isnt
just a Scottish or even alcohol-related problem. Im shocked at how many people take
anti-depressants. Theyve become so readily available, and I know from experience how
hard drug companies push and press this idea of people being entitled to be happy
all the time.
I was at a sales meeting for a drug company once, and they were bemoaning the fact that
sales for anti-depressants were down, but as January and the new year was approaching,
they were hoping profits would improve. They want us to be miserable. That alone made me
want to write Ginger Baby.
Across the spectrum of your reviews you have been variously described as a comic,
chick-lit and literary writer. Do you find these descriptions useful, and if so, which do
I consider myself lucky enough to have had articles and reviews published by everything
from broadsheet newspapers and tabloids to fashion and gossip magazines like OK!
For me thats fantastic, because it means that a lot of different people are getting
to discover the book. I dont want to be pigeon-holed, no writer does, but I do want
as many people as possible to read and enjoy what I spent all my time working on. So my
view is, say what you like. My editor likes to promote me as an accessible literary
writer, and I suppose thats how I like to see myself.
What drove you to become a writer?
Although I remember writing from a very young age, it wasnt until I studied
business at university that I decided to make a go of it. I began by starting a theatre
group which, amongst all the other jobs I was lumbered with, I also had to write scripts,
because nobody else could be bothered. But I soon found that I got this glee, this high
that I didnt get from any other work.
I suppose my path towards becoming a prose writer had a lot to do with outgrowing the
conventions and restrictions of scriptwriting. I needed to move beyond the shared
responsibility of working with a director and actors, despite the fact that it can be
difficult working on your own without the inspiration and feedback of others, but I wanted
to take more risks, which also meant taking more control. Saying that, I realise how good
a training ground working in theatre proved for me, and I certainly dont regret
having done it.
What book or writer most inspired you to write?
This is a difficult question. Id probably say Kurt Vonnegut, not only for his
gentle and engaging narrative voice, but also for his world view. For me, the art is in
disguising the art, and he manages it in a way that is simple and beautiful.
Id also have to include some of the great short-story writers Chekov,
Maupassant and Gogol mainly because when I began to write prose, I did so with
intention of being a short-story writer. I soon realised the money wasnt great
though, so I reluctantly moved on to writing novels.
Over the last decade or so, Scotland has produced a wealth of successful female
authors: Janice Galloway, Ali Smith, A.L Kennedy, Louise Welsh, Anne Donovan and
Laura Hird, amongst many others, including yourself. Are there any particular reasons for
I think its a question of access. The amount of talent in Scotland has never been
in question, just the publishing opportunities. Women now have much more influential
positions in the arts: there are women agents, women editors, publishers, commisioning
editors in film and TV. Our time has finally come.
In a recent public vote taken by The List magazine, No Wonder I Take A
Drink was voted in the top twenty Scottish books of all time. How does it feel to be
ranked alongside Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson?
No really, as great a response as that was, I cant rank myself alongside those
writers. Well, not yet anyway.
What would you most recommend about Barcelona?
You mean apart from the sea and the mountains and the architecture? The community
spirit. I love the way everyone gets involved in the street festivals, from the Correfoc
to the Castellers, I see everywhere ordinary people making enormous committments to
community events. People work hard at enjoying themselves here, and theyre not shy
when it comes to dancing in the street. They know how to party.
|Laura and interviewer David at Bar Port Nou, Barcelona,
You have the opportunity to swap a building in Glasgow for one in Barcelona;
what building would it be and why?
Casa Batllo for my flat in Glasgow, though Im not sure I could handle so many
tourists queueing at my door early every morning.
Favourite Burns line?
And I will love thee still my dear, till a the seas gang dry
Fish supper or tapas?
Tapas, but only if the choice was that or fish supper. Otherwise curry would win.
In Glasgow, picante means pi-can-te.