faces in the distemper

IMG_2371When Mari Strachan was a little girl, she used to create pretend newspapers, carefully writing the stories in pencil, drawing a picture to go with them, and then sewing the pages together. She says, “I’ve always loved the physicality of books and paper and writing instruments…”

Now she is 64 years old, and has just published her first novel, The Earth Hums in B Flat.  Her first novel! Congratulations, Mari!

Mari Strachan is Welsh. She lives part of the time in Wales and part of the time in London. As early as she can remember, she has loved books and reading and words, so it makes sense that she grew up to be a librarian, a book reviewer, a researcher, a translator, a copy editor, and a web editor. And now an author.

In The Earth Hums In B Flat, the main character is 12 1/2-year-old, Gwenni Morgan. Strachan reveals Gwenni’s personality in the way Gwenni interacts with objects in the world around her.

For example, early in the novel, imaginative Gwenni sees faces in the distemper [a kind of paint] in the scullery:

“The green distemper on the walls is beginning to peel and flake, shaping faces with sly eyes and mouths tight with secrets. There are new faces there every day.” (page 6)

Gwenni is, in fact, surrounded by people with secrets. Strachan pulls this thread through the novel.

“They’re not watching me this morning. They’ve closed their eyes and grown long ears so that they can listen…” (page 43)

She uses the faces to show Gwenni’s emotions:

“You scared the faces in the distemper, Mam.” (page 92)

“Will the faces open their mouths to scream out our secrets as the new distemper washes over them like a wave and drowns them?” (page 93)

It’s Gwenni’s relationship with the world around her that makes her such a compelling character. For more on this novel, please check out my review in the summer issue of Contrary Magazine as well as this  interview with Mari Strachan at The View From Here Magazine, in which Strachan talks about where she writes, the difference between drafting and writing, and her favorite words.

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8 thoughts on “faces in the distemper

  1. That’s just what I was going to say, Stephen (Well, except for the part where I’m not a man and didn’t turn 40 last year.) But our sentiments are the same! Inspirational post, and congratulations to Mari!


  2. Cynthia, this book sounds wonderful. Thank you for leading me to it, I do not know if I would have found it otherwise. i’ll let you know.

    Last year I was present for a honory award to a woman in her early 90s who ahd her first story published! It is wonderful to see it come to fruition!


  3. What a wonderful title! I have always loved the notion the ancient Greeks had of the planets each making it’s own distinctive tone – “music of the spheres” I can’t wait to read it.


  4. Jennifer, yes, if we just keep showing up, if we just keep writing, one day it will be us. And it’s nice to know that age is no barrier!

    Deb, if I knew that the Greeks thought each planet made its own distinct tone, I had forgotten. So thanks for sharing that! I love the phrase “music of the spheres.” What a lovely image.

    I did love enjoy every page of this book. It was definitely “its own person.” If anyone reads it, please share your impressions here!


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