Elizabeth is collaborating with Eco-Libris to plant a tree for every copy printed of the book. She will also be planting a tree for every copy printed of "The Birth Machine", which will be reissued by Salt Publishing on October 2010. This is also an opportunity to remind you of two other gifted authors who publish with Salt and partner with us - Tania Hershman and Aaron Fagan.
Elizabeth's tour started on May 6th at Sue Guiney's blog and since then had another seven stops in very interesting destinations (check out the tour's webpage for the full list) and we're the ninth and last stop. Since we collaborate with Elizabeth to green up her books, we decided to have the interview more focused on the green side of both her and the book. We hope you'll enjoy it.
First, here's some background on the author and the book:
Elizabeth Baines was born in South Wales and lives in Manchester. She is the prizewinning author of prose fiction and plays for radio and stage. Too Many Magpies was published by Salt in 2009. Previously Salt published her collection of short stories, Balancing on the Edge of the World (2007) which was pronounced 'a stunning debut collection' (The Short Review). In October 2010 Salt will reissue her first, acclaimed novel The Birth Machine. She is also a performer and has been a teacher. t
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.
And now for the interview:
Hi Elizabeth. We love the idea of virtual book tour as it's also very eco-friendly in terms of carbon footprint. How did you like it? Was it fun?
It's been great fun, Raz. So interesting to see the different things that the hosts have come up with - from probing questions that wrenched my brain to a really fun word association game! The way I think virtual tours win out hands-down over in-person tours is that the audience is potentially so much bigger, and not only that, the visit is a permanent record for anyone to visit at any time.
You're a very eco-conscious writer - why is that and how do you see it reflected in your writing?
I was born in the countryside in South Wales to a family who were closely involved with and passionately interested in nature - some of them were farmers. When I was about nine a power station was built slap-bang on that rural idyll that had been my first home, with loss of some really important wetlands, and it was obvious that the local people, including my family, had been powerless to stop it happening in the face of government decision. I felt a huge sense of grief and later anger, so I guess you could say that at nine years old my political eco-consciousness was born. That scenario appears in my first novel, The Birth Machine (which Salt will reissue in October), and these issues are so much part of me that of course they emerge in my writing all the time.
You plant a tree with Eco-Libris for every printed copy of your books. Do you have other eco-friendly habits you practice in daily life?
I use eco-friendly products and recycle. We have a compost bin. I have an absolute horror, in fact, of throwing things away when they could be somehow used again. I do love clothes, but I hardly ever buy new, and I'm always altering them for the fashions, and when they wear out I cut them up for rags! My husband John and I used to have a car each, but we decided we should only have one. This all sounds very pious, I guess, but it's quite selfish, really, as it's the only way I feel comfortable. And I don't know how I'd feel if I had to do a lot of flying...
When I think about the theme of scientific versus magical thinking, I instinctively think about global warming and how people relate to it in the current debates. How do you see it?
Yes, I think the whole issue of global warming is very much tied up with the issue of magical/scientific thinking. People tend to think of science and magical thinking as opposites, but as I said recently in an interview on the Salt website, while the truly scientific is truly rational and takes account of unknown factors, a lot of magic-wand thinking goes on in scientific/technological practice - an assumption that you can wave a scientific wand and all will be well, a failure to account for possible detrimental consequences of technology - which can lead to environmental disasters.
So we burn fossil fuels for a hundred years and fifty years and send planes up in the air for fifty and assume the atmosphere won't be affected etc... We build nuclear power stations without accounting for nuclear disaster... It's based to some extent in ignorance, and also in a selfish perspective that fails to go beyond the here and now, but it's also a failure of imagination and a childlike, wishful refusal to accept uncertainty.
I see this childlike magical thinking operating in the anti-global warming lobby, the insistence that either global warming is not really happening or that it's not the result of human activities. I accept that we can't conclusively prove that it's the latter, but it seems to me that the only mature response is to take on board the uncertainty and the possibility of our own responsibility...
The theme of nature runs throughout your novel, and I was wondering what's your take on the dissonance between the love many people share to nature and its constant misuse at the same time?
Again, I think this is linked to a certain kind of magical thinking, and it's partly to do with the fact that we've become divorced from nature. We have a romantic longing for nature, but we've lost our understanding of it. We see it as a romantic backdrop for ourselves, yet paradoxically we lose sense of how our activities intimately affect it. So we rush to the rural fishing villages of the world and turn them into acres of multistorey hotels... Romantically we believe that nature will survive whatever, so we drill so deep in the sea that we cause a massive oil spill we can't control...
Would you like to see the book published in other forms such as e-book or audiobook?
Yes, I would love that! For environmental reasons as well as the democratic possibilities. It seems to me that by cutting out the need for printing, transport and warehousing, the life of a book can be extended: books can be made more widely available and for longer. But you'll never stop me loving actual, physical books...
How do you feel about the transition from print to digital? Do you think it will also change the way books are written?
I really find it hard to comment on this. I don't yet have an ebook myself, so I don't even know about that reading experience. And I'm not sure that it would affect the writing experience, anyway. I've heard some writers say they write differently on computers from the way they did with paper and pen (because it's easier to splurge when you know you can so easily cut and paste and so there's a greater freedom) but I and many other writers find that we still have to write our first drafts by hand anyway - for that very reason, that it's too easy to splurge on the computer and then, because it looks so finished, fail to do the necessary editing.
So we're not so sure the changing technology so far has changed the substance of what we write, and I'm not sure that it will be any different when we are writing books for digitization. Although I do think that the internet and the way it favours brevity has already affected prose style: I think we favour economy in prose fiction now far more than we did, and I'm certainly more aware than ever of the need to achieve it while I'm writing.
And what about bookstores? Do you think they could survive in the digital age?
Again, it's another unknown, I think. Current trends would indicate that bookstores will die, but then who is to say that the rise of digital literature won't give rise to a new alternative market in beautifully printed books the point of which would be physical properties that you could only experience before buying in a bookshop?
Can you tell us what you're working on now?
I'm working on a kind of family saga about memory and forgetting, as well as on a new collection of stories around the theme of uncertainty (of course!)
Last but not least, I'm curious if you're a football fan in if you follow your team on the World Cup?
Oh, no, I'm not a football fan, I'm afraid! Well, not in the usual sense. I do like the camaraderie in the pubs at the moment, though...
Thank you, Elizabeth!
If you want to learn more about 'Too Many Magpies', please check the following links:
Founded in 2007, Eco-Libris is a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age by promoting the adoption of green practices in the book industry, balancing out books by planting trees, and helping to make e-reading greener.
To achieve these goals Eco-Libris is working with book readers, publishers, authors, bookstores and others in the book industry worldwide. So far Eco-Libris balanced out over 179,500 books, which results in more than 200,000 new trees planted with its planting partners in developing countries.