issue 50: October - December 2005 

see also the short story 'And the Winner ' by Laura Marney

Laura Marney

David Ramos Fernandes

Soon after the publication of her second bestselling novel, Nobody Loves A Ginger Baby, Glasgow author Laura Marney transplanted herself to Barcelona for three summer months to begin work on her eagerly anticipated third novel, Only Strange People Go To Church. Having spent a year living in Spain prior to this, Barcelona has now become her home away from home. Against the odds, TBR caught her between a devastating work schedule and the explosive Correfoc, part of Barcelona’s annual Mercè festival.

First of all, why Barcelona?

I spent a few months living in Majorca before moving here a few years ago. I like Majorca, but the winter months can get you down. I was watching TV one night and they had a programme showing the top ten destinations in Europe. Barcelona looked great. I planned to live in Majorca over the summer, then stay in Barcelona through the winter, even though I didn’t know anyone here. But in the end I just stayed on.

I’ve always been a Hispanophile. I love the language, the culture, food, everything. Years ago, when I was a student in Glasgow, I met my hero, Bernard McLaverty, and I told him how I wanted to move to Spain and make a living as a writer. Now, every writer starts out with some dream or other, and so few of them, no matter how good they might be, actually manage it. I think he’d probably heard that sort of patter before, but to his credit he wished me good luck and asked me to send him a postcard. So, a few years later, when I got a book deal and moved to Spain, I did.

Having lived most of your life in Glasgow, how much of the city is present in your novels?

It’s hard to say. My first novel was set mostly in the Highlands, and my second only uses Glasgow as a backdrop, but in all honesty it could have been set in any modern city. That said, my characters do tend to speak with Glaswegian, or at least Scottish, phrases or turns of phrase, so the influence no doubt lies there. That and maybe the humour.

I would agree. Your last novel, Nobody Loves a Ginger Baby, balances black comedy with a Nobody Loves A Ginger Babytragedy that wonderfully verges on the absurd, a style reminiscent of a Scottish film called Orphans, also set in Glasgow. Might you describe this as a consciously Glaswegian, or maybe even Scottish, style of humour?

Well. First of all, I’m very flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as Orphans. I think it’s a great film. But as far as there being a consciously Glaswegian or Scottish style of humour, I don’t know. Maybe. Where I come from it’s not considered cool to moan or take yourself too seriously, and if you have problems you make light of them. That’s what I try and do, or at least that’s the way it comes out; that people have problems but they’ll use humour to deal with them. They’ll see the humour in a tragedy. They’re not self-pitying characters, or at least I hope they’re not.

In your debut novel No Wonder I Take A Drink, the central character, Trisha, discards her city life and job working as a drugs rep, and moves away to a remote Highland cottage. How close was her experience to your own?

In as much as Trisha was a single parent with a teenage son, working as a drugs rep, then yes, those were my experiences that were useful for the story; and of course there were plenty of situations in the book, as ridiculous as they may sound, that did actually happen to me or friends of mine. But on the whole, as far as the back story and plot is concerned, that was fictional.

The idea to write that particular book was accidental. I was on holiday in the Highlands when I ran over a sheep. At the time I didn’t know what to do. The poor thing was dragging itself across the road on its front legs when luckily a farmer drove by and stopped to help. It wasn’t his sheep, but he managed to calm me down, saying this sort of thing happened all the time. He kept trying to lift the sheep onto its back legs, like he was adjusting a table, but it was no use. The legs must’ve been broken. Anyway, he walked round the back of his truck and pulled out a rifle and said, “I’ll be with you in a second, I’ve just got to sort this out first”. Then he walked over to a nearby ditch, and inside was this huge stag lying injured. It looked serious, and god knows how long it had been in there, so he had to put it out of its misery. But it struck me that, one minute I was driving along the road singing to the radio, and the next I was standing over a ditch splattered with blood.

It was an unpleasant experience right enough, but as you do, when you make it into an anecdote, you add details. You embellish and exaggerate until it becomes funnier with every telling. That story grew into a collection of anecdotes about the Highlands, and from there I simply needed to add Trisha’s story.

The use of the Highlands as a setting was deliberate then?

Yes, very much so. My experience of the Highlands was at odds with the idyllic, shortbread-tin reputation it’s often given. What I discovered was nature in the raw. And this wasn’t just me. I had friends who moved to the Highlands to escape the stress of living in a city, and instead only encountered the stress of living in a rural enviroment. By relating their experiences, I then thought I could try and subvert the Kailyard myth.

I’m also interested in the idea of people being isolated, and the Highlands were perfect because that made Trisha physically as well as socially isolated. There was also plenty of comedy to be had from a city innocent being stuck in the countyside.

Themes of isolation and alienation are prevalent throughout your two novels. Why are you so drawn to them?

It shocks me that, for all the opportunities we have to socialise and communicate, there is a real and noticable lack of community in the way we live. When I was a wee girl most people seemed to live within extended families; my aunties lived with my granny, everyone lived amongst each other. Then there came a sort of nuclear family, just the husband, wife and kids, and now it all seems to have dissolved into single parent families; everyone living alone in wee boxes. I feel we’ve all become isolated. It’s something that affects me, and continues to affect me, so I want to discuss it.

Even my next book revolves around the idea of isolation, but more specifically on how religion tries to replace that sense of community in society. It’s a shame that religion has become uncool. Not only are many people embarrassed to admit they have a belief in a particular religion, but many of us are also deeply suspicious of those who declare themselves to be a Christian, for instance. All in all, it’s a wee bit worrying how we’ve lost this communal life.

It’s interesting that your novels centre around socially acceptable coping mechanisms. Your first book deals with alcoholism, the second with the dependence on anti-depressants, and now you plan to discuss religion in your third. Is there any significance in this?

I read somewhere that the first thing to remember is that ‘life is hard’, and that alone is as much as you can expect. And once you’ve accepted that, life becomes easier, because you realise that life is not just supposed to be all sunshine and roses. We have this modern expectation of happiness; we’re all desperate to be happy, and if we’re not, then we feel cheated or think there must be something wrong. But in fact, not being happy is the norm.

It’s understandable that people use alcohol and anti-depressants as a way of trying to find that elusive happiness. I mean, we all do, but inevitably all that does, especially when taken to extremes, is make things worse. Because, while you’re dealing with that problem, you’re neglecting all your other problems. You’re forgetting that life is just hard, end of story.

When I was growing up it wasn’t considered strange that most fathers were alcoholics. Everyone I knew had alcoholism in their family and at the time I thought it was just that generation, but now that I’ve grown up, I realise that simply wasn’t true. It almost seems to be a natural progression. I mean, this isn’t just a Scottish or even alcohol-related problem. I’m shocked at how many people take anti-depressants. They’ve become so readily available, and I know from experience how hard drug companies push and press this idea of people being entitled to be happy all the time.

I was at a sales meeting for a drug company once, and they were bemoaning the fact that sales for anti-depressants were down, but as January and the new year was approaching, they were hoping profits would improve. They want us to be miserable. That alone made me want to write Ginger Baby.

Across the spectrum of your reviews you have been variously described as a comic, chick-lit and literary writer. Do you find these descriptions useful, and if so, which do you prefer?

I consider myself lucky enough to have had articles and reviews published by everything from broadsheet newspapers and tabloids to fashion and gossip magazines like OK! For me that’s fantastic, because it means that a lot of different people are getting to discover the book. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed, no writer does, but I do want as many people as possible to read and enjoy what I spent all my time working on. So my view is, say what you like. My editor likes to promote me as an accessible literary writer, and I suppose that’s how I like to see myself.

What drove you to become a writer?


Although I remember writing from a very young age, it wasn’t until I studied business at university that I decided to make a go of it. I began by starting a theatre group which, amongst all the other jobs I was lumbered with, I also had to write scripts, because nobody else could be bothered. But I soon found that I got this glee, this high that I didn’t get from any other work.

I suppose my path towards becoming a prose writer had a lot to do with outgrowing the conventions and restrictions of scriptwriting. I needed to move beyond the shared responsibility of working with a director and actors, despite the fact that it can be difficult working on your own without the inspiration and feedback of others, but I wanted to take more risks, which also meant taking more control. Saying that, I realise how good a training ground working in theatre proved for me, and I certainly don’t regret having done it.

What book or writer most inspired you to write?

This is a difficult question. I’d probably say Kurt Vonnegut, not only for his gentle and engaging narrative voice, but also for his world view. For me, the art is in disguising the art, and he manages it in a way that is simple and beautiful.

I’d also have to include some of the great short-story writers ­ Chekov, Maupassant and Gogol ­ mainly because when I began to write prose, I did so with intention of being a short-story writer. I soon realised the money wasn’t great though, so I reluctantly moved on to writing novels.

Over the last decade or so, Scotland has produced a wealth of successful female authors:  Janice Galloway, Ali Smith, A.L Kennedy, Louise Welsh, Anne Donovan and Laura Hird, amongst many others, including yourself. Are there any particular reasons for this?

I think it’s a question of access. The amount of talent in Scotland has never been in question, just the publishing opportunities. Women now have much more influential positions in the arts: there are women agents, women editors, publishers, commisioning editors in film and TV. Our time has finally come.

In a recent public vote taken by The List magazine,No Wonder I Take A Drink No Wonder I Take A Drink was voted in the top twenty Scottish books of all time. How does it feel to be ranked alongside Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson?


No really, as great a response as that was, I can’t rank myself alongside those writers. Well, not yet anyway.

What would you most recommend about Barcelona?

You mean apart from the sea and the mountains and the architecture? The community spirit. I love the way everyone gets involved in the street festivals, from the Correfoc to the Castellers, I see everywhere ordinary people making enormous committments to community events. People work hard at enjoying themselves here, and they’re not shy when it comes to dancing in the street. They know how to party.

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Laura and interviewer David at Bar Port Nou, Barcelona, 2005

You have the opportunity to swap a building in Glasgow for one in Barcelona; what building would it be and why?

Casa Batllo for my flat in Glasgow, though I’m not sure I could handle so many tourists queueing at my door early every morning.

Favourite Burns line?

‘And I will love thee still my dear, till a’ the seas gang dry’

Fish supper or tapas?

Tapas, but only if the choice was that or fish supper. Otherwise curry would win. In Glasgow, picante means pi-can-te.

©  TBR 2005

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author bio

issue 50: October - December 2005 


    Donald Hays: Why He Did It
    Beth Ann Bauman:
    Robert Lopez:
Shall We Run for Our Lives
    Paul Mandelbaum:
Adriane and the Court-Appointed Psychiatrist
    Laura Marney:
And the Winner Is

     picks from back issues
    Jesse Shepard:
First Day She’d Never See
    Cheryl Alu:
Whoever You Want Me To Be


    Scottish writer Laura Marney


    Harry Potter
    answers to last issue’s quiz, Marys in Literature

book reviews

    Blinding Light by Paul Theroux

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