Home burning books Burning Books Q and A—Meg Grehan

Burning Books Q and A—Meg Grehan

Meg Grehan talks all things bookish for the companion series to our popular podcast, Burning Books

A book from your early days

My nana gave me a beautiful collection of Oscar Wilde stories when I was about 8. It made me cry so much I was actually a little bit mad at her for giving it to me! These days I’m very glad she did though, it showed me the power of books, how much they can move you, how much they can stay with you.

I cherish this book, it definitely came to mind a lot when I was writing The Lonely Book, my most recent verse novel for children, which is about a much more literal type of bookish magic! I kept it close while writing and definitely think my main character, Annie, would love it too. 

Dog ears or bookmarks?

Dog ears if I’m lazy, bookmarks if I’m not. But if it’s a book I’m annotating heavily I’m happy to dog ear every page.  

A quote you can say by heart?

“The most beautiful part of your body is where it’s headed. & remember, loneliness is still time spent with the world.” by Ocean Vuong

Or, “Poo, Todd.” by Patrick Ness 

Do you lend without expecting a book returned?

I would like to say yes, really I would. But no, please give me my books back!

Best book someone gave you? 

My Nana loved poetry, and actually wrote some. She wrote a poem about me when I was little, it’s called Megan, and it was published in a lovely book. My mum gave me the book a few years ago and it’s very special to me. 

A book you return to over the years?

My favourite book, If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. It follows a group of Shakespeare students in the nineties. It has murder and drama and betrayal and friendship and love and so, so much Shakespeare. I love it so much I own five, soon to be six, copies and I could read it over and over. 

The right book at the right time?

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

I read it when I was very agoraphobic and connected to Constance’s fear and Merricat’s wildness so vividly. I wanted to be among the trees like Merricat and lived through her strangeness and magic and small freedom, but I felt like Constance, stuck inside and afraid.

I read it at the exact right time and it changed me as a person and as a reader. I felt connection and understanding and kinship. 

A book that taught you something important?

A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers follows a tea monk who is feeling unfulfilled with their life. They meet a sweet robot named Mosscap and the two go on to travel through nature together to find the answer to the question, what do people need?

It taught me a lot about the concept of purpose, how much we prioritise productivity, and the importance of rest. It taught me that it’s enough to just be, that “… it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live.”

A book that saved you?

Mary Oliver saves me over and over. Her poetry arrived in my life at the right time and I return to it almost daily. It’s affirming, grounding, inspiring.

It makes me want to write, which is a beautiful thing, writing is very healing for me and no one inspires me to write like Mary Oliver does. I’m very grateful for her and her work. 

A book that makes you laugh? 

Project Hail Mary! A wonderful book by Andy Weir about a man who wakes up in space with no idea how or why he’s there. It has one of my favourite characters ever, made me cry a fair bit and made me laugh like no other book has. Even if you don’t like sci-fi, I recommend this book. I adore it. 

A book you associate with a particular life event? 

Just before my first book came out I met one of my favourite authors, Patrick Ness, and in my copy of Release he wrote “To Meg, great to meet a fellow author on their home turf!”

Meeting and being referred to as an author by someone I admire so much changed how I viewed myself, though it may sound silly, it gave me a little push towards confidence, towards pride in what I’d achieved. Until then it had all felt like one big fluke.

I’ll always think of Release, which is also just a brilliant book, when I think about that time, which was undoubtedly one of the most significant of my life so far.  

One of your own books that you’d choose to save if your house was on fire

I would choose to save my book Baby Teeth, it’s a strange little book but it means the world to me. It’s a little darker than my other books, a little more horror, a bit paranormal.

It’s about a vampire named Immy who has lived a lot of lives and all of those past lives live inside her head, clamouring to be heard, mourning the lives they lived. It’s a sapphic love story, an exploration of identity, a celebration of found family and my favourite thing I’ve ever written. 

A book you are reading now/writing now?

I’m writing a poetry collection! All of my books have been written in verse so writing poetry isn’t new to me, but I’ve never tried to write a full collection before, just individual poems and verse novels. I’m having a wonderful time working on it and it’s making me very happy.

As for reading, I’m reading In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune which is a queer, found-family-of-robots Pinocchio retelling that is making me laugh while it absolutely shatters my heart, and Y/N by Esther Yi which is about a woman who becomes obsessed with a K-Pop idol and goes to Seoul in search of him. It’s very literary, very beautifully written and very strange. I love it. 

You can save one non-book item: what is it? 

My practical answer is my laptop so I can make more books, my honest one is a little box I keep on my bookshelves that holds an acorn and a thimble my girlfriend and I exchanged when we were 19 and just beginning our relationship.

Twelve years on I still open the little box a lot and think about tiny us and how books (Peter Pan in this case) helped us connect when we were so awkward and shy!