How We Spend Our Days: Mari Strachan

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Mari Strachan:

Everything has shifted slightly. Yesterday my husband left for two weeks to teach in Kenya. But today will be different, also, because I have to travel from my rural village south-eastwards to our capital city, Cardiff.

But, first things first. I drink a mug of coffee, Italian blend, and use the remainder of the hot water to mix a mash with some oats for the hens.As usual, they behave as if they haven’t been fed for a month and gobble up the mash, then race out of their pen to roam the garden and cluck and peck at everything as they go. They are comic creatures and invariably make me laugh. I shall tempt them back into their pen with chopped tomatoes and green leaves and corn before I leave; there, they will be perfectly safe from our nocturnal visitor, the fox. Some sunshine has been promised for today by the weather forecasters, so the plants in the glasshouse and the polytunnel need watering: tiny alpine strawberries, a good crop of tomatoes, spreading courgettes, the last of the filet beans, ripening butternut squashes, spinach, kale, salad leaves, fragrant coriander, parsley and mint – our smallholding is about eight hundred feet above sea level and the covered spaces lengthen our growing season by several weeks. Then I return indoors for breakfast and another cup of coffee, and to do some preparation for the event I am travelling to Cardiff to attend.

Literature Wales, the body which supports writers in Wales, has been offered a shop space in a prestigious new shopping development in the centre of the city, and it is being turned into a pop-up Lolfa Lên – a Literature Lounge – for a month. It has been set up at short notice and the event today is one of the first to take place there. In a ‘Meet the Author’ event Deborah Kay Davies and I, both Canongate authors, will be reading from our prose works and taking questions. I’m looking forward to meeting Deborah, and to being in Cardiff, the city where I attended university and worked for a while many years ago. My youngest son, Cai, lives and works there now, and I shall stay with him tonight.

The bus leaves from Aberaeron, down on the coast, and for the first half of its journey meanders through lush green countryside and villages and small towns: Felinfach, Llanbedr Pont Steffan, Llanybydder, Llanllwni, Llandysul, Pencader and then Caerfyrddin, the oldest town in Wales. Their names run off the tongue like a litany, the names of places have a powerful magic, conjuring up their history, their culture, their religion, their people. I like to use proper nouns when I write. My mind drifts in and out of the ideas and information I am gathering for my third book. The novel is at that nebulous stage where nothing is yet formed, so that when people ask me what it is about I sound completely incapable of forming a sentence let alone a novel when I reply. The second half of the journey is mostly on the motorway and not as conducive to gathering thoughts as the first half. Three hours and forty minutes after leaving Aberaeron, with an hour to spare before I have to be at the Lolfa Lên, the bus draws into Cardiff Bus Station, and Cai is there to meet me.

It is wonderful to chat to Deborah, to compare experiences, to hear about her current writing project, which sounds innovative and interesting. A small audience has gathered in the meantime, and we begin our readings. The Lolfa Lên opens out into the shopping precinct and passers-by stop to listen, though most of them resist attempts to bring then further inside! The audience has plenty of questions to ask of us both, and the time speeds past.

The evening ends with a meal in an Italian restaurant with Cai and Hannah, and a walk back through the centre of Cardiff to the area of Roath where I’m sleeping tonight. I lie in bed listening to the night-time sounds of the city, so different to my village where the susurration of the wind through the leaves of the beech trees and the calls of barn owls lull me to sleep. Tomorrow I shall walk back through the morning city to catch the bus, to make the same journey in reverse, to travel home.

AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…

1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • PURE by Andrew Miller, and I had been waiting impatiently for it to be published.

2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?

  • Read as widely as possible.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • I write the whole of my first draft by hand in A5 notebooks.

By Mari Strachan:

10 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Mari Strachan

  1. It seems the pen is mightier than the keyboard. What is it about first drafts in notebooks? I’ve always wondered why Ideas flow better from pen to page.

    This is such a lovely piece. I look forward to reading your novels. I also adore the picture of your hens. I only have one, and she is indeed a “comic” creature.

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  2. I love how this series provides both inspiration by hearing about other writers’ process, and new writers to read! I hadn’t read Mari Strachan and just picked up her book off the library shelf after reading this post.

    I’m working on my thesis right now, and am writing 3 pages a day longhand on a legal pad. It flows so much better than going straight to the computer! I wonder whether it’s a generational thing? Maybe kids growing up now will have less distance between their creative writing process and the keyboard.

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  3. I am pleased to hear that a new Mari Strachan novel is on its way to the shelves for next spring and that another is in notebook process. Thanks for introducing me to this author two summers ago, Cynthia, and to Ms. Strachan for visiting with us on Catching Days. (But, I must say, I hope my chickens don’t hear about chopped tomatoes, green leaves and corn appetizers with a main course of hot oats and mash.)

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  4. Thank you all for your comments, and nice to make contact with you again, Jodi.

    Maybe someone, somewhere, should be doing research on the link between creative writing and hen keeping!

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  5. Dear Cynthia,
    This is, once again, a lovely peek inside a writer’s days. I loved reading about Mari Strachan, enjoyed travelling around Wales, hearing the litany of names slipping off her pen.

    I haven’t commented here for so long, been rather busy. But, I wanted to share my good news with you, that my story, the Pull of the Moon is being published in Litro in London this month. http://www.litro.co.uk/index.php/2011/11/01/the-pull-moon-susanna-crossman/

    Thanks again to you and to Mari for shring her day,

    All the best Susanna

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  6. ps I just bought the christa wolf book. I worked on cassandra when I was student, the narratives within book moved me deeply. So, looking forward to this one and sharing impressions!

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  7. Cynthia,

    I love these passages. They are so candid and such a pleasure to read. I love the word “courgettes.” Thanks for sharing these.

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