First Writes: Melissa Harrison

The debut author tells us about Clay, a portrait of four people trying to cope with city life

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First Writes: Melissa Harrison

Can you give us five words to describe Clay?
An intensely lyrical urban pastoral.

Name one author who should be more famous than they are now?
JA Baker, who wrote The Peregrine. His was an utterly unique voice.

What was the first book you read?
My mum made and illustrated an alphabet book to teach me and my five siblings to read. I wish I knew where it was now.

What was the last book you read?
Holloway by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards.

Which book makes you cry?
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin. The eager, intimate tone is heartbreakingly at odds with the knowledge that he would die so soon after writing them.

Which book makes you laugh?
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. Beguilingly warm and funny.

Which dead author do you wish was still alive today?
I recently read Anna Karenina for the first time. So much modern literature owes a debt to Tolstoy’s almost forensic insight into fleeing psychological states, and ability to set that against a broad historical picture. I’d love to know which of his disciples he’d rate, if any.

What one thing would you change about the publishing world?
I like Argentina’s idea of giving writers a pension. It can be a very insecure life to embark on, but nations need their writers and poets just as much as their politicians.

What plans do you have for book two?
It’s well underway! Somebody once said that each new book is an apology for the sins of the previous one, and it’s true that as you learn you can avoid mistakes more easily. The flipside is you become more critical about what you’re producing. It’s a trip …

Clay is published by Bloomsbury on Thu 3 Jan.

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