#SaltReadingGroup Interview with Elizabeth Baines.
This week the Salt Twitter Reading Group continues with an interview with Elizabeth Baines. After reading Too Many Magpies we got the chance to ask Elizabeth some questions that had roused us. We eagerly anticipated Elizabeth’s reply…
Magpies are associated strongly with superstitions, are you superstitious?
Well, I like to think not. But I have to say that there is one thing that makes me think I am: ever since I was a little girl I have loved wild primroses, and one day, at a time when I had small children, I saw a wild primrose plant in a shop and bought it and put in on the kitchen table. Then that very month, the thing that happens to the child in the novel (I won’t plot-spoil and say what it is) happened to my own little boy. Every spring since then, whenever I have seen those natural-looking primroses in a shop I have had an immediate urge to buy one, and then immediately afterwards I decide not to, in case it’s tempting fate… I surprise myself every time, because really, on the logical level, I don’t hold with superstition at all…
Your novel is all about contrast, the rational and irrational, science and magic. Do you think people can be too rational and rely too much on science? Is there still room for a little magic in our lives?
Actually, I don’t think you can EVER be too rational – I hold rationality above all else. But it depends what you mean by rational. It’s easy to use traditional logic to come to quite the wrong conclusion if you start with the wrong premise, for instance, or to serve a blinkered kind of thinking. To me the truly rational takes account of the limits of our knowledge, as well as the value of intuition. And true science, which I also hold in great esteem, does this, and of course most scientific inventions have happened precisely because of hunches and that creative kind of thinking ‘out of the box’. However I’ve known enough scientists, especially in the fields of applied science, to know that there can be a certain kind of thinking by scientists which is indeed blinkered, unable to imagine possibilities, in particular the possible consequences of technology – and we can indeed see it in the environmental disasters that continually happen. Indeed, I’d say that this kind of science depends on magical thinking – the illogical assumption that you can wave a scientific wand and all will be well whatever – so I don’t in fact hold science and magic as necessarily opposed. In the novel, the narrator’s husband doesn’t stand for this kind of blinkered thinking (as some reviewers have thought): he’s a truer scientist who has always been aware of the ‘unknown factors’, and this is why the narrator had been attracted to him and married him. But the narrator’s fears are so deep that when she meets the stranger who seems to offer some kind of magical assurance against the uncertainty, she is attracted. And of course this leads to trouble, so you can see what I think about the idea of that kind of magic!
The theme of nature runs throughout your novel, and the book is part of Eco-Libris where one tree is planted for every book. Have you always been interested in the environment? Is nature a big part for your life?
Yes, I have always been passionately interested in nature and the environment. I spent my early years in the countryside in South Wales, and for a long time after we moved away to the town I missed it with an almost physical ache. I’ve lived in the city for years now and have come to love it, and probably as a writer I wouldn’t now live anywhere else, but there’s plenty of nature there anyway, and yes, I’d say I think about it every day.
Postnatal depression is something that a lot of women go through, but feel they can’t talk about. Was it difficult to tackle this issue in the novel?
No, I found it easy – this is one of the easiest things I’ve written. I must say the more taboo or silenced an issue is, the greater the urge I always feel to get it out there in writing! And as I said on the tour visit to Nuala Ni Chonchuir’s blog, I didn’t actually think of it as writing about postnatal depression but the kind of existential fears we can have for much of our lives but usually manage to suppress.
We have enjoyed listening to the recording of you reading Too Many Magpies.
Does being a performer and a teacher help you write?
For me acting and writing come from the same place. For both, you need to be able to inhabit another world and other consciousnesses. I’m not sure that one particularly helps the other; though I guess the more you do of each the better you get at both. Teaching is stimulating – students can be very inspiring – and looking at the mechanics of other people’s writing has certainly, I think, made me a more conscious writer myself. The only drawback is the amount of creativity and time it takes up, and sometimes, however inspired you may be by teaching, it’s hard to teach and write at the same time.
Salt publishes many quality titles, though it is a small company. Why do you think we chose your book for the book of the month?
I don’t know – I should ask you that! Is it because it’s one of the first novels you have published? For which I am very grateful, I must say…!
Buy your copy today from the Salt online store for only £7.19. Come back next Wednesday for reviews and videos, and check out our Twitter Reading Group at the end of the month.