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Adam Marek is a British short story writer of two collections published by Comma Press: Instruction Manual For Swallowing (2007), and The Stone Thrower (2012), which we recently reviewed. He won the 2011 Arts Foundation short story fellowship, and his short story, “Fewer Things“, was shortlisted for the 2010 Sunday Times EFG award. His stories have also been published in anthologies including The Best British Short Stories 2011 (Salt), The New Uncanny (2008, Comma), and a handful on science and technology—Lemistry (2011), Litmus (2011), and the forthcoming Biopunk, all also from Comma. Follow him at adammarek.co.uk and @adammarek.
What is your earliest memory?
It looks like this: I’m close to an orange and brown carpet (I’m short because I’m only two). My sister is freshly born and laying in a brand new bouncer-cot type contraption. I am jealous of this contraption.
What is the first book you ever loved? Why?
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I remember sitting in my infant school book corner reading it over and over, just loving those illustrations. I’ve always loved monsters with personalities and I think it started in Sendak’s book. My friends and I used to love Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen too, and laughing at Mickey’s willy.
When was the first time you realised that the world isn’t necessarily as it seems?
I was sitting in a British Home Stores café with my aunt and grandma in the very early eighties—a treat for me and my sister whenever my cousins were in town. They were both smoking and gossiping in adult-code about another member of my family. I was desperate to know what they were saying, but it was beyond my skills of comprehension. It was the first time I realised adults keep secrets from each other.
What has been the most formative place in your life? Why?
My film tutor’s classroom during my Art Foundation year. I left school after my A-Levels thinking I was an idiot, and that there was no value in all the weird things I found fascinating. My tutor there—Brenda Williams—loved and encouraged my imagination, making me feel valid and talented for the first time. She used to shriek with delight and clap her hands and laugh when I presented storyboards for film ideas. I was nutty about horror movies at the time, and she introduced me to books like Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in Modern Horror Film, and Barbara Creed’s The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, opening up for me the world of symbolism and the unconscious. We took apart The Shining and Psycho and Alien and it was wonderful. If I hadn’t been to Brenda’s classroom, I’d still be miserable, ashamed and creatively frustrated. I’m so grateful to her.
Which historical or literary character do you most identify with? Why?
Dr. Manhattan in Alan Moore’s Watchmen. He said: “I have walked across the surface of the sun. I have witnessed events so tiny and so fast, they could hardly be said to have occurred at all… The world’s smartest man poses no more threat to me than does its smartest termite.” I say stuff like that all the time.
Which literary character could you be in love with and why? How would you win him/her over?
Who could fail to fall in love with Holly Golightly? (Not the obtainable Holly from the movie, but Truman Capote’s unobtainable Holly.) And I fall in love with just about every female character Haruki Murakami writes about—they’re all so spooky and sexy. They too, are mostly unwooable.
If you could time-travel and teleport, which literary world would you want to visit? Why?
I’d love to go to Huxley’s Brave New World for a Soma binge.
What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?
I tell my kids to go find their shoes because they’re going to be late for school. I drink wine and watch True Blood or Mad Men with my wife. I walk in my local nature reserve (the RSPB Lodge in Sandy, Bedfordshire). I watch Ted talks. I clean up the puke of my raggedy old cats. I waste a lot of time worrying.
Tell us about the worst job you’ve had.
I worked in a pillow factory for a month. The smell of duck down haunts me still. Foul place that fowl place.
Describe your most defining experience with money.
Winning the Arts Foundation short story fellowship in 2011. I was awarded £10k to buy time to write. I quit my job, and wrote full-time for six months. I finished my new story collection The Stone Thrower during the fellowship.
Being a writer is a strange brand of celebrity. Tell us about your most memorable encounter.
It was in a little Serbian town called Kikinda, which has sulphurous water and its own short story festival. I was with 20-odd other writers from around the world, staying in a hotel that was being renovated, but was opened especially for us (and therefore mainly a building site). After the first night of readings, we all got crazy-drunk together and stayed up till about four. At six, massively hungover, I had to get up to do an interview on Serbian radio. When I got back from the interview, the street was filled with horse-drawn carriages—about eight of them. The carriages were to give us writers a tour of the town and then take us out to an artists’ colony. Sitting in that open carriage, trotting down a hot street, with all the locals sitting on chairs outside their homes watching us go by, I knew exactly how Prince William must have felt on his wedding day.
If you were to write yourself as a character, what would be your most defining characteristic?
Indecisiveness. I think, maybe.
If you were to write a novel about an anti-hero/-heroine, what would his/her central flaw be?
A guilty conscience.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Why?
It’s obvious and common, but honestly, I would fly. I dream about it sometimes, and those dreams are magnificent.
What is the most important piece of life advice you would give a young person?
Be honest. Especially with yourself. Bullshitting other people and bullshitting yourself is destructive.
What’s next for you, work- and life-wise?
I’m visiting festivals to launch The Stone Thrower. I was at the Small Wonder festival at Charleston this weekend, next is the Lancaster Litfest, then Manchester Literary Festival, and then the Story Salon lit night in London. [Full listing here.] I’ve just started work on the latest draft of a novel. My wife is about to have a big birthday, so I’m planning to take her away somewhere memorable.