<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to EADT Suffolk today click here

Acclaimed novelist Fiona Melrose tells us about her Suffolk inspiration

PUBLISHED: 16:30 26 September 2017 | UPDATED: 16:34 26 September 2017

 Winter landscape by Chris Myhill

Winter landscape by Chris Myhill

Fiona Melrose’s acclaimed debut novel spans the globe from Suffolk to SouthAfrica. Catherine Larner talked to her about the inspiration for her blossoming second career as a writer

Now would seem the perfect time to be in the business of political analysis and research. Writer Fiona Melrose has spent the past two decades trying to make sense of the world, working variously for government organisations, investment companies and academia.

“My brain is good at analysis, taking huge amounts of information and distilling it into something coherent,” she says. “But just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you should do it. I had an aptitude for it, and when you’ve got to get a job, you follow that path.

“Then suddenly it’s 20 years later and you’re thinking ‘I have no idea what I’m doing here’.”

A change of direction for Fiona meant leaving her home in South Africa and moving to Suffolk, to stay with her brother and his family on their farm near Woodbridge.

Author Fiona Melrose, shortlisted for the New Angle Prize Author Fiona Melrose, shortlisted for the New Angle Prize

“It seemed a lovely adventure,” she says, as she recalls days spent walking dogs and keeping horses, while she worked out what she wanted to do next. Remembering how her youth was spent “moping around in black polo necks”, recorded in endless pages of diaries and “tragic teenage poems”, she decided to take a course in creative writing to see if this could once again prove a therapeutic exercise.

“I loved it,” she says. “There was no time to be precious and self-indulgent, sitting around waiting for the muse, you just had to get the work done. And I think I learned less about how to write and more about how to read.

“Learning how you read changes how and why you write, and extends what’s possible in your writing.” When she completed a short story for the course, Fiona realised she had more to say about the Suffolk farming family she had created. The novel, Midwinter, was the result.

It’s the story of Landyn Midwinter and his son, farming for a while in Zambia before returning to battle the frozen Suffolk landscape, contending with their emotions of guilt and grief at the loss of their wife and mother. The two men are unable to communicate effectively and a bitter argument results in a drunken night voyage on the river, with tragic consequences.

It is powerful, bleak and atmospheric.

Johannesburg Johannesburg

“I was shocked at the response to Midwinter,” Fiona says. “The book market is so crowded and there are lots of big, exciting books. Midwinter is a quiet book, a Suffolk farmer book.

“Debut novels can sink without a trace. I only hoped for a couple of nice reviews in the newspapers.”

This she achieved, and more. Midwinter was included on the long list for the Baileys Prize this year, and was also shortlisted for the New Angle Literary Prize.

The confidence she has gained from this endorsement, the support of her publishing team, and the encouragement from other authors, often through Twitter, which Fiona uses extensively, has led to a second novel following this month, and she’s busy working on the third.

“I’m a quick writer,” she says.

In fact, the first draft of her new book, Johannesburg, set in the South African city she now calls home, was completed in a month.

“I came back to the city in December when everyone packs up and disappears to the coast. I had no idea how to pass the time. So I thought, ‘I’ve got a month, if I bang out 2,000 words a day, that’s 62,000 words, and that’s a book’.”

This was also the time of Nelson Mandela’s death, and Fiona spent each day writing a journal of how this loss felt for her, for the city and for the nation. Johannesburg has been refined since the early draft and thoughts from the journal have been integrated.

The result is an homage to the construction and spirit of Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs Dalloway, with the story taking place on a single day.

PHOTO: Stephen Squirrell PHOTO: Stephen Squirrell

The searing heat of the South African summer is the ever-present backdrop to the preparations for a party. Gin has returned home from New York to mark her mother’s 80th birthday. Memories and former relationships surface, and emotions are heightened as news breaks of Tata’s death. For the South African nation, with its history of apartheid, it’s a time for taking stock and looking back.

Fiona describes the book as a hymn to the city, as much as it is about a city that is broken and fractured.

Certainly, place has had a profound impact on Fiona’s writing to date and, while she won’t reveal the details of her third novel, she admits that she has been drawn back to Suffolk for the setting.

“There’s something unfathomable about Suffolk,” she says, describing how Blythburgh church symbolises all she puzzles over in our distinctive landscape.

Midwinter Midwinter

“This huge church built on completely unstable ground. There’s the shifting marshland, half ocean and half land, half salt and half turf.

“There are all these intersections between what’s solid and what’s not, and what’s tangible and what’s intangible. It has an amazing eery, ghostly feel – the Suffolk gothic!

“There’s something about Suffolk. I’m not done with it, creatively and, possibly, emotionally. I have a lot of myself invested in exploring it as a subject and a location. I’d like to spend at least another book there.”

Her growing legion of fans can’t wait.


Follow Suffolk Mag on Facebook and Twitter


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other EADT Suffolk Magazine visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by EADT Suffolk Magazine staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique EADT Suffolk Magazine account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Mon, 17:33

Tracy Root believes life is better with a dog. She should know - she’s the Suffolk Fairydogmother. Photography: Paul Nixon

Read more
Tuesday, November 21, 2017

You’ve all been very busy with phone or camera in hand this week in Suffolk - here are some of our favourite pictures taken by you

Read more
Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Not many people know it but a lot of your favourite films have been made in Suffolk. From blockbusters to independent, here are 21 films made in Suffolk.

Read more
Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Interest in craft beers is at an all-time high and the choice on offer is daunting. We went to the Arcade Tavern, winner of Best Pub in the EADT Suffolk Food and Drink Awards, for some inside knowledge

Read more
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Thirty years ago this month Suffolk was badly battered as hurricane force winds wreaked havoc across the UK – and forecasters famously got it wrong. Veteran East Anglian metorologist Jim Bacon recalls the event and tells Mike Trippitt how forecasting has come a long way since then

Read more
Thursday, October 5, 2017

Lucy Etherington discovers the company dedicated to giving young people a chance to explore their talents and enjoy making opera together

Read more
Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Fiona Melrose’s acclaimed debut novel spans the globe from Suffolk to SouthAfrica. Catherine Larner talked to her about the inspiration for her blossoming second career as a writer

Read more
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Mary Ann Sieghart became one of our best known political commentators, in the days when women in Westminster were few. But, surrounded by grey-suited male MPs, she struggled to tell them apart, due to a rare condition which makes it hard to recognise faces. She talks to Pat Parker about politics, face blindness, bullying and how Suffolk soothes her

Read more
Tuesday, September 12, 2017

When her world fell apart, Kit Bradley found a happier life looking after sheep. Matt Gaw met her at Nowton Park, near Bury St Edmunds. Photography: Jennifer Leavy

Read more
Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Cheesemaker Julie Cheyney has been winning awards for her truly artisanal products for more than a decade. Now her Suffolk-made St Jude is a contender in The Great British Cheese Awards. Tessa Allingham went to see how she does it.

Read more
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory
EADT Suffolk Application Link

Local Business Directory

Suffolk's trusted business finder

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search