Thursday, May 27, 2010

Flying with Magpies: Elizabeth Baines' Virtual Book Tour

I'm delighted to welcome Elizabeth Baines to my blog today. Elizabeth and I met several years ago, at a Salt Publishing event, in 2007 - just after Salt had offered to publish my book. I knew of her from her fabulous blogs,, and FictionBitch and meeting her in person was a real treat! And then I read her short story collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World, which is both beautiful and powerful, stories that linger for a very long time.  I couldn't wait to read more.

About Elizabeth:  she was born in South Wales and lives in Manchester. She is the prizewinning author of prose fiction and plays for radio and stage. The Short Review called Balancing on the Edge of the World (Salt, 2007) ‘a stunning debut collection’. In October 2010 Salt will reissue her first, acclaimed novel The Birth Machine. She is also a performer and has been a teacher.

Too Many Magpies is Elizabeth's most recent book, a novel (also published by Salt, in 2009). I devoured it in one setting, mesmerized by the combination of realism with a hint of the magical, poetic prose and disturbing themes. About the book:
"How do we safeguard our children in a changing and dangerous world? And what if the greatest danger is from ourselves? A young mother fearful for her children’s safety falls under the spell of a charismatic but sinister stranger. A novel about our hidden desires and the scientific and magical modes of thinking which have got us to where we are now."

So, instead of asking Elizabeth questions about the book, or about writing and being a writer, which you can find out about from the other stops on her virtual book tour, we played Word Association! I gave Elizabeth a number of words taken from Too Many Magpies and she wrote down her first thoughts on reading each word. I have chosen some quotes, examples of Elizabeth's glorious prose, which I have interspersed with her responses:


Stuck, in roundness, in difference, in doubleness, in isolation, in company, in the past, in the future
On the baby's first birthday, the Smarties on the cake went frilly round the edges


Special knowledge, special access, truth and lies
Richard's job was finding the knowledge. His field was Nutrition and his special interest was Cholesterol. This sometimes led to Hormones, and what they called Inter-Disciplinary Cross--Fertilization


Dark moods, negation, emptiness, timelessness, the endless universe; and all their opposites: dazzling light and  laughter and concrete time.
Then onto the motorway: that gulp of time, that holding of breath before you leave the world of old stone walls and gear changes and black bends and slowing to negotiate, and take the plunge and make it onto the wide golden highway, lit all along over the black unseen moor


Something secret, something lost, a yearning for the impossible, and the comic sight of men in Masonic aprons.

Trials had proved that some therapeutic herbs did have medicinal qualities, scientific knowledge confirming old wives' tales. Science making sense of magic. Synthesis, it seemed: full circle.

Aching, cringing, air grazing your skin, leaves on tress scratching, a picture in your mind of yourself curled and foetal.
You could say that Richard acted well. He said, 'There's no blame. I don't blame you, why should I? It's the unknown factor we always knew could occur.'


A green mound of a hill like a pillow.
and a feeling of coming home after that strange exotic journey into bravery and exhileration

Solid, crumbly; scorched and barren; rich, the fork turning up potatoes like gems, like stones. Dead potato plants like rags. 
This land was once under the sea. The pink sandy earth shifted, in little hollows.
I hope this has whetted your appetite! Find out more about the book and buy it from Salt, and listen to a podcast of Elizabeth talking about Too Many Magpies. Visit Elizabeth's last blog tour stop, over at Women Rule Writer and put June 2nd in your diary for her next stop, over at How to Write a Novel. Thanks, Elizabeth! Can't wait for the next book..

Coming up next week: I host Nik Perring to talk about tiny things of great beauty in his new collection, Not So Perfect.


Rachel Fenton said...

I really liked what you both did here - clever as the book and neat.

Group 8 said...

It's a great novel - I'd recommend it.

Debi said...

Oh, very well done, both of you.

The great things about these tours is the different approaches and perspectives of the hosts.

Elizabeth Baines said...

That 'comic' (in answer to 'Alchemy') should have been 'comical' - see the mistakes that come out of my subconscious!

Thanks for dropping by, all.