Small talk: Marina Lewycka

Marina Lewycka was born to Ukrainian parents in a German refugee camp in 1946. They fled to England a year later, settling first with a pair of elderly ladies in Sussex. After studying English and philosophy, Lewycka spent almost 40 years trying to get published and finally succeeded, aged 58, with A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005). The novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize as well as shortlisted for the Orange Prize, and has now been translated into more than 29 languages. Her second book Two Caravans was shortlisted for the 2008 Orwell Prize for political writing. She lives in Sheffield.

Who is your perfect reader?

I am my perfect reader. I write novels I’d like to read myself – that’s why I started to write.

Which books are at your bedside?

Patrick Gale’s A Perfectly Good Man; Ruth Padel’s The Mara Crossing; Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov; Donald Sassoon’s The Culture of the Europeans.

What book changed your life?

A book I was given at the age of four called English Songs and Ballads, compiled by TWH Crosland. My family fled to England as refugees and we lodged with a lady in Sussex. I lapped it up.

What is your writing routine?

I wake up about dawn and start work straightaway. I write for as long as I can before lunchtime.

Where do you write best?

In bed. My laptop is spattered with porridge. I must give it a clean one of these days.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

For [third novel] We Are All Made of Glue, I followed all the London bus routes to see if my scenes worked.

Who are your literary influences?

They are all pre-1700s. Chaucer, Shakespeare and John Donne – none of whom are novelists.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

“Adam & Eve” by Lucas Crannach. I love the way he captures both the innocence and the worldliness.

Whom would you choose to play you in a film about your life?

I’d like it to be Julia Roberts – but it’s unlikely.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Midnight’s Children. I could never have written it, but it’s wonderful. I wish I could have broken as much new ground as that book does. Or Joyce’s Ulysses or Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter.

What are you most proud of writing?

I’m proud of Caravans – that was technically very difficult to write. And Tractors because it made me into somebody.

What does it mean to be a writer?

It means that I’ve become what I always thought I was meant to be. In a way it’s a fulfilment.

Marina Lewycka’s latest novel is ‘Various Pets Alive or Dead’ (Fig Tree)

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