MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Marina Kemp Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Marina Kemp

Marina Kemp

An interview with Marina Kemp

Marina Kemp explains her writing process and the inspiration behind her haunting debut novel Marguerite.

Describe Marguerite in a few sentences.

Marguerite is a story about the gulf between the face we show the world and the secrets we keep hidden—and what happens when those two things collide.

Marguerite is a young woman who arrives in a small village in France, to work as a live-in nurse for a cruel old man. In her grief and secrecy, she is sleep-walking through her youth. This starts to change when she meets Henri, a local farmer living with his own secrets, constantly in hiding from his true self; between them there's a chance for connection and acceptance. But so many things call that into jeopardy; not just the characters around them—because this is a very small and claustrophobic village, in which everyone is watching each other, desperate for the next great drama to unfold—but the web of secrets in which they each find themselves enmeshed.

Setting is so important in Marguerite. Not only does it set the pace, but it also mirrors the characters. Why did you choose Saint-Sulpice as the setting?

My mother lives much of the year in France, amongst silvery olive groves just outside a small village much like Saint-Sulpice. I started writing Marguerite when I was out there with her, and as a setting its remoteness, smallness and lush natural beauty became instrumental to many elements of the story: isolation, sensuality, claustrophobia, as well as watchfulness, speculation and gossip.

You are a debut novelist and have already received unbelievable acclaim for Marguerite. What advice would you give other debut novelists who are just on the cusp of publishing their first book?

To relinquish control, I suppose—as far as you ever can relinquish control of something so close to you. To remember that, once the writing and editing are done, in a very real sense the novel is no longer yours.

You address some dark ideas in this book. For a rather young person, how were you able to write about these and why was it important for you to include them?

When I set about writing Marguerite, my intention was to revive a short story I had written and lost when I was seventeen or eighteen, about the relationship between a young nurse and a dying old man. It had been a relatively simple story but now, coming back to that relationship aged twenty-nine, I found that I brought with me a very different set of emphases and concerns. The intervening decade of my life had had its share of darkness and loss; perhaps inevitably, that translated into the novel.

Your novel is primarily about Marguerite, a live-in nurse. Do you have experience in the nursing field? If not, what research had to go into understanding the nuances of it?

I spent much of my twenties balancing my studies and work with being an informal carer—for my oldest brother Miles, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury, for my adored step-father who had terminal cancer, and finally for my father, who also died of cancer. I learnt the language of care, its nuances and rhythms, its gentle intimacy and repetition and the impact it can have on a relationship.

Marguerite rather reluctantly befriends Suki Lacourse, who is an outsider in the town of Saint-Sulpice. Why was it important for you to include the character of Suki in the novel and what do you think she can teach readers?

To me, Suki is one of the most alive characters in the novel, and perhaps the most dangerous. She's passionate and acquisitive—she wants information, secrets, intimacy, friendship, romance, excitement. One of the reasons she becomes so dangerous is that she's constantly excluded and rebutted—because of prejudice and fear on the one hand, and people's internal damage on the other. Her aliveness and intelligence are never allowed to find a straightforward outlet.

Her feelings are seldom considered; she is treated badly, underestimated and suppressed. If she teaches readers something, perhaps it's that those we treat badly can bite back.

What are some themes in Marguerite and why are they important?

Some of the novel's themes are undoubtedly dark—death, prejudice, society's fear and hatred of otherness, the damage we can inflict on each other. But there are some much brighter themes, too, which feel just as weighty and important to me. For me, Marguerite is at its heart an examination of what it means to live fully—to step into the light and live with honesty, sensuality and a capacity for joy.

A novel is art and like any art it's in the interpretation of the beholder, but as a write is there anything you want the reader to take away from reading this book?

Perhaps it's just that: that we have a choice not to sleepwalk, and not to live beholden to shame, guilt, prejudice or fear.

What is your writing process?

I can't write without four things: tea breaks, silence, reading unrelated novels, and most crucially taking very long, daily, ostensibly aimless walks. It's while walking that I find everything percolates, and the real breakthroughs—in plot, character, sometimes even dialogue—occur.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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