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Book at Beachtime with Marina Lewycka

Wednesday 4 July 2012, 16:38

Marina Lewycka Marina Lewycka

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Editor's note: Marina Lewycka's book Various Pets Alive and Dead featured in Radio 4 Extra's Book at Beachtime from 2 July on BBC Radio 4 Extra. Here she writes about her novel. You can also replay the live chat from 4 July when Marina answered questions about her writing. PMcD.

Marina Lewycka writes:

Various Pets Alive and Dead brings the laid-back values of the sixties into collision with today's go-getting values. Serge grew up in a commune, but now works as a quant in an investment bank, and he hasn't dared tell his parents Marcus and Doro about his new career - let alone bring the new love of his life home to meet them. They've retired to a semi in Doncaster, but still cling on to their ideals - and to some of the awful clothes that went with them. His prickly sister Clara is teaching in a rough school and trying to shed her past, and his adopted sister Oolie Anna, who has Downs Syndrome, is also making a bid for freedom. Yes, and various pets come to a sticky end.

The idea for the novel was born out of the banking crisis that was suddenly turning our prosperous world upside down. I started asking myself: what's happening? who's to blame? how come nobody saw it coming? Living in Yorkshire, I was aware of how the financial bubble in the City was ravaging the industrial north.

At the same time, I was hearing friends of my age saying they don't quite understand what their children are up to. We were the generation that went on demos, smoked spliffs, created great music, and invented sex (yeah, I know, each generation thinks that!) So how come our children have grown up into bankers, entrepreneurs, hedge fund managers? We love them, of course, but we don't understand them. They love us, but they think we're a bit quaint and past it. OK, maybe we are - but we have some great memories.

Way back in 1970, I went to live in a squat in a small terraced house in Bow with a group of friends. Having checked it was empty, late one night we broke in through the front window. Although squatting itself was not illegal, breaking and entering were. I can still remember the terrified beating of my heart as we stretched out on the bare floorboards in our sleeping bags that night. Around 5am we were woken by a shuddering roar of the first commuter train of the day. In the feeble light filtering through the grimy windows, we explored our new home. We soon realised why the Council had declared it unfit for habitation. There was no bathroom, and the only loo was in the back yard, with its door hanging off, and five metres away was the main Liverpool Street railway line with trains flashing past every few minutes. Occasionally one would stop.

The kitchen sink had only a cold tap - one of those pot 'butler' sinks which are now so trendy. That's where we washed ourselves, the children, the dishes, and the socks and undies that couldn't wait for the weekly launderette trip. Uggh!

We furnished our home with stuff from skips, painted in primary colours, and stuck up posters. Victory to the NLF. Sisterhood is blooming. Che Guevara. We shared childcare, meals, and sometimes lovers. (The young people in my novel are the same generation as the children who lived with us in the squat, who have turned out delightful, sane and successful.) At night, when everyone was asleep, I would get out a lined exercise book, and scribble away. One day, I thought, I must write a novel about all this.

But when I came to write it, I found the present-day world, the financial meltdown and the devastation of our proud welfare state, kept intruding into my book. And that's how Various Pets Alive and Dead came about.

Marina Lewycka is the author of Various Pets Alive and Dead.

Marina Lewycka will be live online here on Thursday 5 July at 3pm to answer any questions you have about her books. Send any questions you have in advance via the comments below.

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