Interview: Meg Howrey, Author of The Wanderers

For those that haven’t read The Wanderers, can you tell us a little about it?

A three-member crew of astronauts is being trained and tested for the first human mission to Mars by spending seventeen months inside a series of simulators. The story is told from the point of view of each crew member, and also from the people they will be leaving behind, and an observer tasked with evaluating the astronauts. It’s a story about inner space, ambition, the problem of deciding what is “real” and what “real” even means. It’s a space book about humans. To quote one of the characters: “It’s Chekhov in Space!”

What inspired you to write The Wanderers?

I read a newspaper article about a project called Mars500. This was a study done by the European and Russian space agencies. Six volunteers spent 520 days in a specially constructed module, with the idea of trying to understand some of the psychological stresses a crew might experience in a real Mars mission. I couldn’t get the story out of my head, and even though I’d never written anything remotely to do with space science, I had to try.

What was the research process like, given the novel deals with space exploration?

People did not see me for long periods of time, because I was buried under books and papers. I went to lectures, I did a space science course (Space Camp!) and booked sessions in a sensory deprivation tank. (Very relaxing, actually.) It was wonderful, but it took time, about four years to write the book.

The cover for the book is absolutely stunning! Did you have any input on the cover, and what was your reaction when you saw it?

Oh, thank you, isn’t it beautiful? My publishers actually tried a couple of different versions before we got to this one. I was so impressed with how hard people worked, how much they cared about getting it right. When they sent me the final version, I was stunned. It’s absolutely perfect.

What’s on your to read pile at the moment, are there any new releases you’re particularly excited about?

“The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben, Rachel Cusk’s “Transit”, and a Shirley Jackson short story collection: “Let Me Tell You” are up next. I’m also really looking forward to Elif Batuman’s novel “The Idiot.” I loved her book of non-fiction essays.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on a new novel now, but can’t say much about it yet. Books are beasts and can run away or bite, so you have to approach carefully and with patience.

Finally, what’s your favourite book you’ve read recently?

Sometimes I like listening to audio books, as a way of re-reading a novel I haven’t picked up in a while. I just finished listening to Claire Danes perform Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” It’s a book I read many years ago, and before I started writing myself. This time, I was in awe of the enormous craft of the book’s precision and pacing, and deeply enjoying that, and also chilled and horrified by the vision, by how close it feels, how plausible. It’s a terrible book to read right now, and the perfect book to read right now.

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey is published in hardback by Scribner at £14.99.

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