Kulturkollo möter: Maggie O’Farrell

foto: Ben Gold, Sekwa förlag

Just nu håller bokcirkeln om Maggie O’Farrells roman Sommaren utan regn på för fullt inne på Kulturkollo läser. Häng gärna med på den! Dessutom så besöker hon Stockholm i dagarna och räkna med att hon kommer att synas i media under veckan, med all rätt för det är en författare som förtjänar att höras och synas mycket. Vi på kollot är förstås lite nyfikna på författaren som skrivit den bok som vi pratar om så varför inte ta ett litet snack med Maggie O’Farrell?

We arrange our texts in weekly themes and the theme this week is Ireland. What is your relation to the country?
I was born in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. We used to go back to Ireland every summer, mainly to the west coast. One of my favourite places is Omey Island. I went there as a child and never forgot it. The final chapter of Instructions for a Heatwave is set there and I went back while I was writing it. It is the most astonishing place: sometimes an island, sometimes not, wild, mysterious and beautiful.

If I have understood correctly you were born in Northern Ireland and then moved to England. Has that background influenced your writing?  
Not England – I grew up in Wales and then Scotland. I think the experience of always being from somewhere else, of not belonging to a particular place, makes you into an observer, an outsider. You have to look around you, to watch what people do, how they behave, in order to fit it. I’m sure this informed my writing.

As you soon will visit Stockholm we have chosen your novel “Instructions for a Heatwave” for our on-line book club. We are many members eager to start the discussion, talking about a book often gives new perspectives and thoughts. Are you part of a book club yourself? 
I’m not, unfortunately. I’m sure they are wonderful things.

The discussions are always animated about the books we read and I am sure we will discuss the subject of families which disintegrates, family secrets and an urge to know your heritage. Many of your novels come back to the entity of the family. How come?
Families are always going to interest writers. They are crucibles of different – and often clashing – personalities. We all come from one; we are all shaped by the people who gave birth to us, whether we like it or not, and the people we grew up with. With this novel, I wanted to address the relationships between grown-up siblings, the different pressures that adulthood can bring to bear on these age-old bonds: what can change and what stays irrevocable the same.

There is also a heatwave who plays a significant role in the novel, weather conditions are often important in novels but here it somewhat plays the lead. How did you get that idea?
I was interested in the effect extreme weather has on human behaviour. We are, as a race, quite used to our supremacy on this planet. We take it for granted. We’re in charge here and nothing is going to change that. Unless, that is, the planet decides otherwise. It might send us a volcanic eruption, an earthquake or a drought and then we realise our insignificance, our powerlessness, and it frightens us, it terrifies us. And people do all sorts of strange things in the name of fear.

The 1976 heatwave plays an important role in Britain’s collective memory of itself. There is a sense of unity in people’s recall of it. Mention it to anyone who was alive then and they will suddenly start talking about waterbans, standpipes, swarms of ladybirds, the lawns scorched to yellow and opening up in cracks. There’s a hint of pride in the way the British remember it: they all rose to the occasion and overcame adversity. Such spirit hadn’t been called for since the Second World War. The heatwave came in the middle of a decade defined by huge social, economic and political instability and I’ve always thought that it represents a beacon of national solidarity in the face of an implacable enemy – the weather.

“Instructions for a Heatwave” is set in London and “This Must be the Place” partly in rural Ireland. They seem quite far from each other. Do you have settings which are close to your heart, which you return to? Why? Why not?
Place is very important to me, in my writing. I would never write about a place I had never been, only places I know. It’s crucial to get places right. I find it hard to write about somewhere where I am; it’s much easier to create fiction in a place you are only remembering. You don’t need the intrusion of reality.

When we discuss the books we read in our book club we are always amazed by how personal the act of reading is. We interpret the texts differently and pending on our experiences we can relate emotionally or intellectually to the story told. What about writing a novel? Is it even possible to write a novel whiteout leaving personal traces in the text?
It would be impossible, if not undesirable. What is writing a novel other than expressing your innermost thoughts? It’s inevitable, however, that a novel will have a metalife with its readers. Everyone will interpret the text differently.

What would you recommend our readers to read this spring?
I loved ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St John Mandel. I can’t wait to read Elizabeth Strout’s new novel, which is out next month.

Thanks for reading my book!

All best,


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