Nibbies shortlisted What Belongs to You: Interview with author Garth Greenwell

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Norah Myers interviews Garth Greenwell about his debut novel, shortlisted for a Nibbies (or The British Book Award), What Belongs to You.

1) Huge congratulations on your nomination for Debut Fiction Book of the Year at the Nibbies. What does it mean to you?

It’s thrilling, of course, and it feels especially meaningful because of the special nature of the award, which is to recognize not just the writing of a book but the whole process of bringing it into the world. Publishing a first novel was an education in collaboration, and I feel much richer for it, as a writer and as a person.

2) What has it been like working with the Picador team?

A dream. Everyone at Picador has shown an extraordinary commitment to this first novel by an unknown writer–it’s been the kind of experience young writers are told again and again doesn’t exist anymore. My editor, Kris Doyle, has been a tireless champion of the book, and tireless, too, in tending to the anxieties of its author. Justine Anweiler made such a brilliant design for the hardcover, and then a different and equally brilliant design for the paperback. And Camilla Elworthy, my publicist, is utterly unique: in her dedication, her brilliance, her patience, her deep culture. We’ve spent many days over the last year traveling together, which has been the greatest pleasure and privilege of the whole process.

I feel immensely grateful to Picador. The experience of publishing a first novel couldn’t have been better.

3) Whose writing do you look to for inspiration?

There are so many writers whose work challenges and inspires me. My background is in poetry, and I still turn to poets first of all, contemporary (Frank Bidart, Geoffrey Hill, Carolyn Forché, Jorie Graham) and canonical (Ovid, Herbert, Donne, Dickinson, Hopkins). Among prose writers: James, Proust, Baldwin, Woolf.

4) Do you have any writing rituals you’d like to share?

I started writing prose while I was living in Bulgaria, and I can’t imagine writing without the very cheap disposable pens I used in my first notebooks. They’re made in Turkey, and I’ve never been able to find them in the United States. Whenever I go to Bulgaria I buy them in bulk. I’m a little more flexible when it comes to notebooks, but they have to be spiral-bound, half-size, and cheap.

5) As a writer, what keeps you motivated when you feel discouraged?

For me, the saving grace is routine. I always feel discouraged, and if I let myself think about writing as a choice I’ll almost always choose against it. The remedy is to always sit at my desk at the same time to work, to make it automatic.

One of the many ways in which publishing a book is the exact opposite of writing one is that it destroys access to this kind of routine. I feel a little desperate to find my way back to it again.

Garth Greenwell is the author of What Belongs to You, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and is currently a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, and a British Book Award for Debut Fiction. He lives in Iowa City.

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