I am thrilled that I have a copy of Magdalena McGuire’s Home Is Nearby on my (900+) TBR and will be sharing my review later. However, today, Magdalena has agreed to be interviewed on Linda’s Book Bag so I’m delighted to welcome her to the blog.
Published by Impress Books on 1st November 2017, Home is Nearby is available for preorder in e-book and paperback through the publisher links here.
Home is Nearby
1980: the beginning of the Polish Crisis. Brought up in a small village, country-girl Ania arrives in the university city of Wroclaw to pursue her career as a sculptor. Here she falls in love with Dominik, an enigmatic writer at the centre of a group of bohemians and avant-garde artists who throw wild parties. When martial law is declared, their lives change overnight: military tanks appear on the street, curfews are introduced and the artists are driven underground. Together, Ania and Dominik fight back, pushing against the boundaries imposed by the authoritarian communist government. But at what cost? ‘Home Is Nearby’ is a vivid and intimate exploration of the struggle to find your place in the world no matter where you are.
An Interview with Magdalena McGuire
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Magdalena. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Home is Nearby in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
Thank you so much, Linda! It’s lovely to have a chance to chat about books and writing. I really enjoy your blog and am in awe of how many books you read!
A bit about me: I was born in Poland – or, the Polish People’s Republic, as it was known at the time. My mother is Polish and my father was Australian. They met in the university city of Wrocław, where my book is set. My mother was studying literature and my father was teaching English and learning Polish. Despite the language differences between them, it didn’t take long for them to fall in love, get married and have a baby – me!
University of Wrocław
At the time, food was scarce in the shops in Poland, and my parents believed Australia would be a better, or at least easier, place to raise a child. We moved to Australia when I was two years old. I grew up in tropical Darwin, with cyclones and palm trees and multiculturalism. So a very different place to Poland! Growing up, I often wondered what my life would have been like if we’d stayed put in Poland. I guess that’s why I have the desire to write about Poland; it’s my ‘sliding doors’ moment, my chance to live a life that could have been mine, but wasn’t.
When did you realise you were going to be a writer?
I sometimes joke that I had a misspent youth. While other people were out getting life experience, I was buried in a library, reading. I’ve always been a voracious reader and when I was young I particularly loved reading books about girls who love reading books. Anne of Green Gables was my hero (I haven’t been game enough to watch the new TV adaptation in case they ruin it for me). Other heroes included Anastasia Krupnik and Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle. Through them, I could see that it was possible for an ordinary girl to become a writer. I wrote lots of stories when I was a girl and then when I was a teenager I just stopped. I became paralysed by the notion that I had to write something ‘good’ instead of just writing for the pleasure of it. I didn’t return to writing until fairly late in life. Since becoming an adult, I’ve been writing fiction for about four years and it’s my absolute passion. I’m so lucky to have writing and books in my life.
(I think that writing for pleasure rather than to produce the next Austen or Tolstoy is something that many aspiring writers need to allow themselves to do!)
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
I find it all hard, but first drafts are a killer. I find it particularly scary sitting down at the computer and having no idea where the story is going and having that little voice in my head saying: this is crap, what a waste of time, why do you think you can do this? Finishing a first draft feels like an immense achievement, even if the quality of the writing is no good. Once that first draft is done, I can get to the fun part: editing. I love tinkering with structure and polishing sentences and adding in unexpected details that enrich the story. Sometimes I feel like I could spend a lifetime writing and rewriting and editing the same book.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
Most of Home Is Nearby was written soon after my baby was born, so my routine, such as it was, consisted of dashing to the computer to work as hard as I could while the baby was sleeping and finding myself getting really into it just as he woke up… However, all writers have time pressures to deal with and in some ways it’s a good thing because it lends a sense of urgency to your writing.
Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Home is Nearby?
Home is Nearby is about a young Polish woman, Ania, who wants to be a sculptor. She moves from her small village to Wrocław to study art and very quickly falls in with a group of bohemians who, despite the difficult political and economic circumstances that surround them, live life to the fullest. Everything changes when martial law is declared in Poland and Ania is forced to make a decision that will shape the rest of her life.
Communist style apartments in the village where my grandmother lives
Home is Nearby explores our need for emotional roots in our lives and yet you have moved from Poland to Australia. What impact has this had on your writing?
That’s a really interesting question! In the past, I moved around a fair bit. First there was the big move from Poland to Australia, and after that I relocated from Darwin to Brisbane (Darwin was so unlike the rest of Australia that moving ‘Down South’ was a really big deal for me!). After I finished university in Brisbane I had a brief stint teaching at a cattle station in the Northern Territory, then I moved to Perth, then London, and then Melbourne where I’m now based. I feel conflicted because I’m a homebody by nature and yet if I stay in one place for too long I get restless. Now that I have a child I can’t just pick up and leave when I feel like it, but I do fantasise about shifting our family somewhere else, like Europe, or South America, or… the list goes on.
In terms of my writing, I think that moving around has given me an insight into what it’s like to feel like an outsider, a foreigner. These experiences have inspired what, I now realise, are the central themes in my work; questions around place and belonging and identity. Sometimes I feel envious of people who have a strong and long-standing connection to ‘home’. For me, home isn’t one place, its multiple places from my past and present.
(I think Melbourne is one of my favourite cities so I envy you that as a home location.)
As Home is Nearby is based in Poland and you live in Australia, how did you go about researching settings and detail to give authenticity to your writing?
Cold War exhibit in Warsaw
I went on a research trip to Poland and immersed myself in the culture and history of the place. When I came back, I read lots of fiction and non-fiction books by Polish authors, as well as books about Polish history, literature and art. In addition, looking at photos was a key part of my research into 1980s Poland. What did people wear? What did their kitchens look like? Getting these details right was vital for the authenticity of the book. I love researching and felt like I couldn’t start writing until I had the world of the novel clear in my head. However, at some point I had to draw a line and say, okay, now it’s time to write.
To some extent Home is Nearby explores ‘what if’ as a central theme. Why was this important to you?
I think my whole desire to write fiction comes out of ‘what if’ questions! Fiction allows us, both as readers and writers, to imagine ourselves inhabiting different lives and different worlds. I love this. I love the opening up of possibilities that fiction affords. In Home Is Nearby, I wanted to know what it would be like being a young woman who lived in Poland during that momentous time, in the 1980s, when civil liberties were being curtailed and when ordinary people were compelled to stand up for what they believed in. I wanted to know what might happen if love and politics came into conflict, what would happen if the question of ‘doing the right thing’ was more difficult than you could ever have anticipated.
If you could choose to be a character from Home is Nearby, who would you be and why?
I’d probably choose to be Małgorzata, because I’ve always wanted to be one of those arty wild girls, and because in reality I’m nothing like them. I’m too restrained to get up to the type of antics that Małgorzata gets up to in the book.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I mainly read literary fiction novels and short stories. I’ve just finished reading The Power by Naomi Alderman and it absolutely blew me away! I can’t remember the last time I read such an exciting and thought-provoking book. I found myself choosing to read this book rather than go to sleep – as the parent of a one-year old baby, that’s saying something!
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Home is Nearby should be their next read, what would you say?
Experience the wildness of art scene in 1980s communist Poland without having to leave home.
Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions Magdalena and for the wonderful photographs from your research trip.
Thank you so much for having me, it’s been an absolute pleasure!
About Magdalena McGuire
Magdalena McGuire was born in Poland, grew up in Darwin, and now lives in Melbourne. Her short stories have been published in the UK and Australia by The Big Issue and The Bristol Prize, and by Margaret River Press respectively. She has published widely on human rights topics, including women’s rights and the rights of people with disabilities. She is an avid reader and particularly enjoys reading books about girls who like reading books. Her first novel, Home Is Nearby, is set in Poland, Australia and the United Kingdom, in the eventful period of the 1980s. She is also working on a collection of short stories that focus on questions of place, identity and unbelonging, particularly in cross-cultural contexts, as well as another historical fiction novel.
There’s more with these other bloggers too: