1) CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR NEW BOOK OF SHORT-STORIES, AND WHAT INSPIRED THEM?
I’ve written 15 interlinked short stories, collected together as JEBEL MARRA, in a particular place and time: Darfur, in 2005. I spent six months as an aid worker in West Darfur, near the beginning of what is now a 12 year-long war. I came back to silence in the UK, with barely anything visible in our media about the violence in Sudan, and I couldn’t stand it, so I started writing
2)WE NOW HAVE A HUMANITARIAN CRISIS UNFOLDING AS A RESULT OF THE CONTINUED HOSTILITIES IN AND AROUND SYRIA. WHAT DO YOU THINK THE WRITERS ROLE WOULD BE IN RESPONSE TO SUCH A CRISIS?
In a humanitarian crisis like the one we’ve seen erupting from Syria over these past few years, writers can bear witness, reveal, and write breath into the statistics and the rolling news feeds that too quickly become detached from the lives of the affected people – particularly those writers who are deeply connected to the area (I’m thinking here of SYRIA SPEAKS a recent collection of writing and art by Syrian artists). Writers have imagination as one of their tools, and with that, I think one of their roles is to find those crossing points where fact and possibility meet, to find language for things that seem beyond words, to speak about human experience – the inside as well as the outside. Writers can step into a pocket of silence, and speak.
3)IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU THINK YOUR CAREER IN ACTING, AND WORK IN THEATERS HAS CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR WORK TODAY?
It wasn’t much of a career per se, but it did get me on the road to writing! I started acting professionally when I was 11, and spending that time with adults who built lives from playing pretend, from imagining and travelling into other people’s experiences, made me realize that that was actually a real job! Most of them also had other jobs of course, but they showed me that a creative life wasn’t just for the (rich) few…as long as you were willing to do whatever other work was needed to pay the bills. By the time I got to my twenties the frustration started to build. There were not a lot of decent roles for women, so I started writing.
I guess one thing that theatre gave me was the awareness of audience. Writing only really exists with the reader/listener, as some kind of shared imagining, and I kept returning to that as I wrote JEBEL MARRA.
4) YOU DO A LOT OF COMMUNITY WORK, CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THIS?
I started in community arts a long time ago, working as an assistant alongside writer and activist, Louise Wallwein as she worked with a group of young refugees. I remember being blown away by how powerful that was: storytelling, in a group. It’s not ‘teaching’ in the formal sense, but more like creating the conditions for people to experiment and express, to write themselves and their worlds, and to do that together.
Since then, I’ve aimed for that with every group I’ve worked with. I’ve gotten pretty evangelical about creativity being an essential part of health – for individuals, families, communities – as I’ve seen it working again and again. I love it. It gives me hope.
5) WHERE CAN WE BUY JEBEL MARRA?
You can buy the book directly from Comma Press *which means they get more of the profits – support indie publishing!) at their website here:
6)CAN YOU SHARE WITH THE READERS OF THIS BLOG, A SHORT EXTRACT FROM YOUR BOOK?
The Waiting Room, extract from JEBEL MARRA
What I remember is this: summers so short and hot the grass barely had a chance. Running down to the Red River and the new roads beyond, winter salt still staining them pale grey. The two of us lying beneath a sprinkler, shirtless, with no hassle from anyone, our eyes squeezed shut against the sky.
I remember the wood frame skeletons of the new houses, a whole load of them sitting in crescents by the dike, making postcards of the sun as it set late and shone through homes so new they didn’t even have skin on them yet. I remember making our own worlds in those houses, racing up and down the stairs, shrieking as the bats came in at last light, sitting for hours with the orange cat as she licked her pile of newborn kittens.
One of the skeleton houses had a pool out back, a huge hole with no tiles yet, just pure smooth concrete. We threw in an old armchair that we dragged from the dumpster, doused it with lighter fluid and screamed with delight as it burned. Dizzy. Blew black stuff out of noses the next day, but told no one. A secret, A beautiful black-snot secret.
Now in Darfur, I get the same smell, a bottle full of burning petrol flies over the wall in the night, explodes on the ground and takes out two garden chairs and a ropey banana tree. It’s the same feeling I had that night with the armchair, but it’s all wrong this time, the wrong reaction in the wrong place, so I feel it, and keep it to myself. Everyone else is gasping, or shouting, or running to the street to see who could have thrown it. I just stand there in the dark watching it all, watching the smoke turn out the stars.
TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT MICHELLE AND HER WORK HER WEBSITE IS HERE: