Lupa is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, (see Book Review: Lupa), so I am thrilled to present an interview with the author of this extraordinary novel, Marie Marshall. Not many writers can successfully fuse two distinctive time periods into a seamless storyline, but Marshall pulls it off with both intelligence and finesse. My sincere thanks to Marie for agreeing to take the time to answer my questions with so much thought and detail.
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1) What inspired you to write Lupa? In particular, what are the origins of your interest in the Bosnian War and Ancient Rome?
It’s a long time ago since I actually wrote Lupa – I finished it in 2004 – so it is difficult to remember. I recall that the suggestion that I write about a female gladiator came from a fellow-writer, Lucy P Naylor. Lucy often tells me I’m a better writer than she is, but in fact, if anything, her short stories enjoy more success than mine because of her quirky sense of humour. However, she sometimes gives me ideas for stories that she doesn’t think she’s equal to, if you see what I mean – stories that she thinks need my particular toolkit of literary skills to tackle. Sometimes it’s the suggestion of a plot, sometimes it’s a general idea. In the case of Lupa it was a general idea – to write about a female gladiator. In the end, the book wasn’t ‘about’ a female gladiator, but rather a female gladiator was the vehicle that carried one half of the book. I didn’t want the novel to be simply a ‘sword and sandal’ adventure, I wanted it to be more psychological, I wanted it to explore the idea that people see only what they want to see. I have no particular interest in the Bosnian War, nor in Ancient Rome; but the Bosnian War gave one of the central women a reason to be in an environment where she was always going to be, to some degree, an alien, an outsider, someone whose presence, if only in a legal sense, is dubious. Therefore it’s not strange that things happen to her that she can’t quite grasp, things happen that she totally misinterprets.
2) Your novel revolves around the idea of a strong female spirit. Why is this such an important theme to you as a writer?
The strong female spirit. It’s still something which despite the history of women writers from Aphra Behn to Alice Munro, does not feature as prominently in fiction as it might. I don’t see it as a matter of women taking on stereotypically male roles, like Xena on TV. You might think that my female gladiator gets close to that stereotype, but I don’t see her that way, she is a mixture of vulnerability and strength, but they are individual vulnerability and strength as well as, or parallel too, what makes her a strong woman. I think it’s the same for both of the women in the novel. I don’t stop the men in the stories being ‘actors’, taking control of the plot as and when necessary, and I don’t stop the women having the odd delusion about what is actually going on. Now I come to look back on it, I was aware that the story – the stories, rather – drove the book along, drove the way the women acted and felt, but at the same time I tried to write ‘from the inside out’; I immersed myself in the emotions of the story, allowed myself to feel what was happening to the two women. I could drill down deeper into this question, but I would have to start giving plot ‘spoilers’, and I’d much rather people read the book!
3) What was your inspiration for creating the charismatic personality that is Vittorio?
Vittorio needed to be charismatic in order to help build up the misconceptions that Jelena had about him. Again I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. I don’t think this was a matter of inspiration so much as a plot necessity. Also, as a gay woman, it was a bit of a challenge for me to write about a man with that level of charisma and attraction.
4) What is the ultimate message you hope to send to the readers of Lupa?
I didn’t write the novel with a message in mind, I wrote it to be readable. However, I think if a book does not have some kind of message, does not tell us something about human nature, then it is rather thin gruel. The ending – again without giving too much away – is a hopeful one, one which opens up possibilities, at least for my twentieth-century woman, and that hope comes not just because of the final plot twists, but it grows out of what is a little philosophical discussion between the two main twentieth-century characters. What’s going to happen next? Who knows – anything is possible. I guess I want people to enjoy the book, but more, I want them to put it down at the end and have questions to ask about themselves and about human nature.
5) You are also a poet. Where can readers find some of your published work?
I guess Amazon is as good a place to look as any for my first collection of poems, Naked in the Sea, which was published in 2010. My second collection, I am not a fish, is due out before Easter 2013, and again Amazon would be a good place to start. The rest of my work is scattered throughout magazines and anthologies, and there are daily jottings on my blog, I guess. If you happen to be passing through New Orleans and visit the New Orleans Museum of Art, you’ll find one of my poems etched onto an African drum. Not many Scottish poets can claim that!
6) If you were a female gladiator, what name would you take and why?
What name would I take as a gladiator? I put a lot of my own personality into the character of ‘Lupa’, so to an extent I already have a gladiatorial name. I think if I really was a gladiator I wouldn’t care what name I was known by, except perhaps the name known secretly only to Nemesis!
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I found Marie Marshall while wandering through the blogsophere. She posts poetry and prose guaranteed to challenge your imagination and intellect. Be sure to stop by her blog to see her daily adventures in literary creation.
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