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Q&A with Marion Coutts, longlisted for The Iceberg: A Memoir

Q&A with Marion Coutts, longlisted for The Iceberg: A Memoir

Marion Coutts
Samuel Johnson Prize

How does it feel to reach the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize?

Joyous. Extraordinary.

What research did you do for writing your book?

The book was formed out of very extreme circumstances and research as it might normally be understood, didn’t come into it. The Iceberg started as a series of word docs, each clustered around a thought, a phrase, a feeling, a description or an experience. They were short and rough. Sometimes the title would be the whole of the content. At a certain point I started thinking of these tiny passages as chains of text and expanding them, connecting them up. Much later, I realised I was writing a book. However from around a year after my husband Tom Lubbock’s diagnosis with a brain tumour, writing was going on round the clock in our house and as his illness progressed, he needed more and more help with language. Tom was increasingly focused on the projects he wanted to be published after his death. Between January 2011 when he died, and mid-2013, I worked on bringing out three of the five books he was primarily interested in: two collected essays on art with Frances Lincoln, and a memoir with Granta. I was his editor and wrote the introduction to his memoir, Until Further Notice, I am Alive. This was an intense apprenticeship, allowing me up close to the words, the voice and cadences he used, very familiar to me of course, but this time in an unfamiliar professional context. I found this work hugely involving and felt very confident doing it. At the same time, I was writing The Iceberg.

So in a way the research was formal and structural. How might I use language to write about its loss?

How do you feel about the status/ popularity of non-fiction books in general?

Delighted. Just looking at this amazing list shows its richness and scope.

What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?

Impossible to say. It’s like people asking me who is my favourite artist.

Books present themselves to you or you to them at different points in your life and for different reasons. During Tom’s illness I was unable to read anything at all, and fiction ­ making things up ­ was incomprehensible.

Now, I am glad to say, I have started reading again. This is a small success.

What are you working on next?

I have two trains of thought I am following. One is to write something about the intimacy of encounters with visual art. The other is connected with the imaginative space of children. They may not be the same book. They may or may not be wrapped in a work of fiction.


Marion Coutts is the author of The Iceberg: A Memoir (Atlantic)

Photo credit to Alice Rosenbaum 


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