In Interview: Marina Lewycka
This month, Marina Lewycka has published a short story eBook, Four Minute Warning, with independent publisher Goggle. Marina, who rarely writes short stories, finding them more difficult to write than novels, said she was curious to experiment with an eBook only publication. Andrew Oldman, owner of Goggle and Word Factory Associate Editor, interviewed Marina to find out more.
Andrew Oldman:What were the challenges for you with short story writing compared to writing a novel?
Marina Lewycka: Although it takes much longer – years, in fact – in a way novels are easier to write than short stories. In a novel you have a much wider time-frame in which to develop your characters and build up your story, whereas in a short story you just have to capture a key moment which embodies the essence of the whole, and you have to be clever at sketching in any preceding events, or hinting at what might happen afterwards. In a way, you have to know the whole story, even though you only select a part of it to write down.
A: What has made you happiest when writing?
M: The most wonderful experience when writing is being able to lose yourself and see the world completely through someone else’s eyes. When it is really working well, you sometimes forget that you’re yourself altogether. But that is not always a happy state, as you can find yourself immersed in gloomy circumstances or living through distressing situations.
A: What is your writing process?
M: Well, I put my hands on the keyboard of my laptop, and press selected keys.
A: Which short story writers would you recommend and why?
M: I had never read any of her stories before she won the Nobel prize, but I cannot recommend Alice Munro enough. Her stories are lucid, economical, loaded with meaning, and capture precisely just such world-changing moments.
A: Why did you decide to write short story and publish it as an eBook?
M: Although I try to avoid being pigeon-holed as a Ukrainian writer, I often feel when Eastern Europe is in the news, that the media in the West have a one-sided perspective. This was particularly true in the recent Cuba Missile Crisis anniversary, which I remember as a teenager. The story started from imagining what it would have been like if I had been the same teenager, but living in Ukraine – as could well have happened, but for a fluke of history. Some things would have been the same, others utterly different.
It’s always bracing to step out of one’s comfort zone, and this short story became a stepping stone to enter the murky unknown world of e-publishing. It was an adventure for me, and I hope for the readers, too.
Four Minute Warning is set in 1962, when Russia and America are facing up to each other over missiles in Cuba, and Olenka and Masha, two teenage girls in Donetsk, are wondering what they would do if they were warned that they had only four minutes left to live. They decide that losing their virginity is a priority. On the eve of October 28th they share a bottle of vodka with their friends Yuriy and Arkady. Then the phone rings…
Marina Lewycka was born of Ukrainian parents in a refugee camp in Kiel, Germany, after World War II, grew up in Sussex, Doncaster, Gainsborough and Witney. She now lives in Sheffield. Her first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was published in 2005 and went on to sell a million copies in thirty five languages. It was shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction, long listed for the Man Booker prize, won the 2005 Saga Award for Wit and the 2005 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. This was followed by Two Caravans (2007 – published in US as Strawberry Fields) We Are All Made of Glue in 2009. Various Pets Alive and Dead is her most recent novel, published in 2012, bringing together hippies, hamsters and the financial crisis. Her short stories have been broadcast on BBC radio, and her articles have appeared in the Guardian, Independent, Sunday Telegraph and Financial Times. She is now working on her fifth novel, set in the Derbyshire Peak District. In her spare time she enjoys walking and gardening.