Marina Lewycka, the daughter of two Ukrainians who were taken to Germany as
forced laborers by the Nazis, was born in a British-run refugee camp in Kiel,
Germany, in 1946. Her family settled in the UK shortly after. She studied at Keele University
in Staffordshire, and has written a
number of books of practical advice for carers of the elderly, published by Age
Concern. Described as funny, open and energized, she is a longtime resident of
Sheffield, England where she used to lecture in media studies at Sheffield Hallam University.
She is still attached to the University, but on a part-time basis.
Her first novel, The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005) was
published when she was 58. It tells
of the exploits of two feuding sisters trying to save their elderly father from
a Ukrainian divorcee, Valentina. It won the 2005 Saga Award for Wit and the 2005
Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize (Lewycka was the first female
winner of the prize which is awarded at the Hay literary festival and includes
having a pig named after the novel!); and was shortlisted for the
2005 Orange Prize for Fiction.
Before Tractors, the only creative work she had had published was a poem in
an Arts Council magazine about 30 years ago. Often she doubted her dream
of becoming a published novelist, but she says, "writing was a
compulsion. Lots of very good writers never get published, and that could easily
have happened to me. People think that good writers will always come out in the
end, but I don't believe that."
Tractors draws heavily on her own life, in fact initially she set out to
write a memoir of her mother's life based on a tape of recollections she
recorded in Ukrainian before she died, but Lewycka soon realized that she just
didn't know enough, "so I was going to have to make stuff up, and in a way it
was very liberating." The tape also gave her an excuse to travel to
Ukraine where she met her mother's sister for the first time. Her aunt,
some years younger than Lewycka's mother, had not heard from her sister in 62
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, she is asked how her family feel
about becoming material for Tractors; to which she replies, "They have
been very generous about it, really .... I feel bad about my sister. It must
be awful for her, and I'd hate it if it happened to me. But you write about what
you know. At least you start off by writing about what you know, and then the
worst thing is that you invent stuff, and no one really knows what's real and
what's invented, and in the end you don't even know yourself."
Lewycka found the key to unlocking her creative skills in the realization that
she could express serious issues through humor. "You get funnier as you get
older, but I hadn't connected with my sense of humour. I did for everyday
purposes, but [before Tractors] I didn't have the confidence to do it
with what I wrote. Tractors felt like a last fling really. I thought,
'What the hell? It doesn't matter what I write. I'll have a laugh and stick it
on the internet.'"
After spending the best part of a decade writing Tractors, she took a
creative writing course at Sheffield Hallam University to polish what she had
written. At the end of the course she was approached by the external
examiner, who was also an agent, to see whether she wanted him to represent her.
Her second novel was published in the UK as Two Caravans in Spring 2007
and, later in the year, as Strawberry Fields in the USA and Canada. Lewycka's third novel, We Are All Made of Glue, was released in July 2009
This biography was last updated on 07/27/2011.
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