MARTIN OUVRY IN CONVERSATION WITH JANE ORMEROD
Martin Ouvry lives in London. A writer, musician, and teacher, Martin is a Wingate Scholar in literature and was a Hawthornden Fellow. His work has been published in a range of anthologies and magazines including Esquire, New Writing (Picador, London), and The London Magazine. Find Martin's fiction in the great weather for MEDIA anthology, Suitcase of Chrysanthemums.
Jane Ormerod: Your story “Cooking for Sara” appears in the latest great weather for MEDIA anthology Suitcase of Chrysanthemums. What is the background to this impressively focused work? If there was an audio version, which actor would voice the narrator?
Martin Ouvry: "Cooking for Sara" began life as a passage in my novel Frugality, which I recently completed thanks in no small part to the generous support of Arts Council England. (Thank you, lovely people at the Arts Council!) Over the course of several weeks—weeks that begin full of promise for the future but veer into disaster—the novel follows the fortunes of the writer Rupe Noble, who believes in the great rewards of "Frugalism," an almost Zen-like outlook that counts the simple things in life to be more fulfilling than the rewards that accrue from a life of wealth and luxury.
The monologue that appears in Suitcase of Chrysanthemums struck me as a piece that could stand alone from an otherwise tightly plotted novel. In a climate in which many people are anxious about the effects of corporate culture, both on the quality of their own lives and on the planet as a whole, "Cooking for Sara" gives us insights into Rupe’s Frugalist philosophy.
Who would voice the narrator? In the absence of Bela Lugosi, I think a Scottish lilt could be ideal.
JO: What is the relationship to London to your writing?
MO: I write about London a lot. I grew up here and live here now. Its bricks and stones, the river, sing to me. Frugality is my latest work that revolves upon the checkerboard of London’s rich and poor, its glamour and grime.
JO: How important is coffee to your writing habits? Do you write every day?
MO: Coffee is my favorite drink and one of the things that keep me at my desk. I write more or less every day, yes, and when I’m not writing I tend to think about the writing, which is pretty much the same thing.
JO: What have you written that has really stretched your comfort zone?
MO: All my fiction stretches my comfort zone. Partly because I insist on certain stylistic qualities that can be hard to achieve, and also because I believe that the imaginative flight that takes place in the best novels arises from real life. I think if it’s really going to resonate, art needs go to places that are dangerous for its makers.
JO: You have spent a lot of your life around music. Does being in a band balance the solitary life of a writer?
MO: In theory, yes. In practice I find it hard to balance both: when I’m working on a novel, I’m immersed in the world that I’m creating on the page. When the band comes together, it’s another immersive experience, another world. The sensation of amplified rock and roll music—much of it one’s own songs—is intoxicating. Rehearsals, gigs, recording sessions are hard to climb down from. In the nineties, when my band, Indian Summer, had a record deal and the single “Just Like Lovers” came out, we were doing it full time; when we come together now there’s always the urge to push towards doing more gigs, festivals, touring, to enter that world more fully again. Whatever I do, I go in at the deep end. But the personae in my writing and on stage with the band are in some ways not so very different.
JO: Who are your favorite writers and what books are you currently reading?
MO: Flannery O’Connor, Nabokov, Beckett, Martin Amis, Bellow, Roth, Ishiguro, Angela Carter...I know I’ve missed a few. Style, structure, courage.
At the moment I’m reading The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith, and The Immeasurable World by William Atkins—a brilliant new book about journeys in desert places.
JO: Any classic novels that you gave up on?
MO: I left War and Peace on the back seat of London cab when I was fifteen and thought it would be a good idea not to pay the fare, and have never revisited it. I hope the driver felt that it was fair exchange.
JO: Many writers find it nerve-wracking to read their work in front of an audience. Any tips on how to approach this?
MO: Accept that your nerves are going to be wracked. Try to enjoy being out and about instead of hunched over your desk. Trust your material.
JO: If there was a movie of your life, who would play you? And what would be the theme song?
MO: Someone much cooler than me.
“Janie Jones” . . . “Desperado” . . . “Swallow My Pride” . . . “Hand In Hand” . . . there are quite a few contenders . . .
JO: Finally, any advice to the eighteen-year-old Martin?
MO: Pick up that damn guitar!