Q&A With Marina Kemp, author of NIGHTINGALE

I first met Marina at the #4thEstatelive event that happened in London in November 2019, where 4thEstate Publishing was showcasing some of the books to be released in the first quarter of 2020. Something drew me to Nightingale first. I don’t know if it was the cover, the lusciousness of it or that I just wanted to be a rebel and read the opposite of what my friend started with. Anyway, I read it and enjoyed it. No regrets I read it first. Glad that she was open to doing this Q&A which I’ve been itching to share. I hope it gives you all a little window into her thought process. Nightingale is out today. Buy it in bookstores, order it online, request it in your local library. A review is on my Instagram page here. If you are feeling lucky, read this then go and take part in my giveaway on Instagram. I’m giving out a copy to a lucky winner. It doesn’t matter where you live, you’ll receive it in the post.


  • How did you manage to write Henri as both a decent guy and a villain? I personally regard him as a terribly selfish human but his decency came across the pages still. I thought that must have been pretty daunting. Intense but cool in a certain way.


I realise I don’t think about the characters I write in terms of their morality, but rather their humanity. And so – although, like most of the characters in Nightingale, he inflicts a lot of damage on other people – I think Henri acts in the only way he can, or the only way he knows how. He has spent his life internalising the hatred society has for otherness, and inflicting that hatred onto himself.


  • “People who don’t adjust their expectations cause trouble” – This is a quote by Jerome, a character in your novel. How true or false for you is this in terms of today’s world structure, especially when it comes to aspects like immigration.


Jerome, for all his cruelty, can be clear-sighted in many ways – but this quote betrays the dizzying arrogance and complacency of his worldview, and that of those like him.  He expects assimilation but he doesn’t understand what it entails, nor does he appreciate that he has never had to assimilate himself.

Writing this novel, I was very interested in people’s profound fear of individuality, otherness, and expression.  As you suggest, I believe that fear is deeply engrained in current views and treatment of immigration.


  • Are you able to remove yourself from the characters you’ve created in this novel and pass judgment on them? If yes, what would you as an outsider looking in call Suki?


To me, Suki is one of the most alive characters in the novel.  She’s passionate and acquisitive – she wants information, secrets, intimacy, friendship, romance, excitement.

I think that one of the reasons she becomes such a dangerous character is that she’s constantly excluded and rebutted – because of prejudice and fear on the one hand, and people’s internal damage on the other.  Her aliveness and intelligence are never allowed to find a straightforward outlet.


  • Your novel is driven by dialogue, which I enjoyed. Is that usually how stories play in your head?


I suppose it is.  When I was writing some of the most dialogue-led scenes in the novel – the altercation between Thibault and Jerome, for example – my fingers could barely keep up with the speed at which they were talking in my head.


  • I know that you went to Oxford and live with your family in London, but your novel is a very intimate and detailed account of an old man in his dying days in a small French village. I was wondering if you had experienced one or both and wrote based off that?


I wrote much of the novel whilst staying with my mum in a small village in France like Saint-Sulpice – she lives there for a large part of the year, and so it’s a place I know intimately.

Both my father and step-father became terminally ill in the past decade. Although Jerome is not based on either of them, I am sure my experience of their illness informed my writing.


Advance reader copy  of Nightingale
  • Which of the Lanvier brother characters could you manage to hang out with? I know all three are idiots.


Thibault is probably the nastiest – like his father, he’s brilliant at playing on a person’s vulnerability.  But I’d definitely find his company the most interesting.


  • I feel like Brigitte got the short end of the stick throughout your novel and I was wondering if she was real, what you would say to her for comfort.


I find it hard to imagine Brigitte accepting any words of comfort. Although she suffers terribly, I imagine her pushing hard against any intimation that she might be a victim.


  • Are you currently reading any book? Please share.


I’m currently reading two tiny books alongside each other: This is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill and Exposure by Olivia Sudjic.  One is a novel, one an essay, but both interrogate very current issues at the heart of female identity.


  • If you sat next to someone reading your book on a train who had no clue who you are, what would you say first to the person?


In all likelihood I’d say nothing at all but – slightly creepily – watch their face and body language for clues as to how they were enjoying it.


  • Which emotion is more heightened for you at the moment – excitement from the feeling that your novel is about to hit the shelves or anxiety from the knowledge that your baby is getting released into the wild.


I think the anxiety is inextricably bound up in the excitement.  Your analogy about releasing a baby into the wild is so right – I can’t choose or control who will interact with it or how they will respond.


Bonus Q1 –  If you were locked up in a room for a month to do nothing but write, which of these two would you not be able to do without. a) Tea b) Chocolate


MK – Definitely tea.  For me, chocolate is a luxury; tea’s a necessity.  And it has to be strong!


Bonus Q2 – What do you do when you are not writing?


MK – I divide my time outside writing between being a mum and working with other writers, editing their writing.


Thank you so much, Marina for answering these questions and best of luck as your book hits the shelves today.

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