PERSONAL: Born in Kenya; married; husband a filmmaker.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Kate Shaw, 18-21 Cavaye Place, London SW10 9PT, England.
CAREER: Writer, novelist, and journalist. Has worked as a waitress, stone-wall builder, ranch hand, documentary filmmaker, screenwriter, and housecleaner.
Away from You, St. Martin's Griffin (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Born and raised for the first twelve years of her life in Kenya, writer and novelist Melanie Finn was educated in the United States and has worked a variety of jobs throughout the world. Finn's first book, Away from You, is a "well-crafted debut novel of self-discovery," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The novel portrays Ellie Cameron, who lives an aimless and undefined life with her boyfriend, Peter, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When a surprise letter arrives from Nairobi, Ellie learns that her estranged father has died. Though she has not seen him, or the African continent, in twenty-five years, he has bequeathed her a substantial fortune in Kenya. When Ellie arrives in Kenya she finds that the country has changed drastically; the British colonial era in which she and her parents lived is well and truly over. Her old home has been demolished and a strip mall stands in its place.
Critics deemed Finn's story to be a strong one. "Finn writes with cool detachment and is best in recreating life among the fading colonialists," observed a Kirkus Reviews critic. Harriet Klausner, writing on the Best Reviews Web site, stated that Away from You "is a fabulous story of a woman in search of more than just her roots; she seeks her soul." Additionally, a Publishers Weekly contributor concluded that "An exotic setting, a solid story and lovely prose add up to a promising first fiction."
Finn told CA: "I first became interested in writing when I realized I did well on any exam that had essay questions. Even if I didn't know what I was talking about, I could make it up and write well enough to cover up my lack of knowledge. There is a less-polite word for this, but luckily publishers call it 'fiction' and sell it.
"I love the classic authors like Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, and Alec Waugh. They focused so much on character, and I think this is an art lost in most modern fiction (including, probably, my own!); it seems so much about style now—and I might blame this on Ernest Hemmingway (who was such a stylist), but I also love his work.
"I write from eight in the morning until about four or five in the afternoon; I take an hour off for lunch, and breaks for tea and reflection. I try to carve out 'islands' of time, and then I go away somewhere by myself and immerse myself in the work for a month solid. At the moment, I have a cottage in Tanga, a town on the Tanzanian coast. Alone (my husband is currently working on a film in Serengeti), I have only cooking, swimming, and writing to worry about!
"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is how much you have to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. And then rewrite again. And again. And probably once more. I'd say most writing is actually about eighty percent rewriting. A favorite writer's joke: How do you tell a professional writer from an amateur? Answer: Sixty drafts.
"I hope my books will cause people to think about their relationships and their reasons for being angry at the people in their lives; to reevaluate how they see their place in their families and other relationships."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2005, review of Away from You, p. 934.
Newsweek International, August 23, 2004, Ginanne Brownell and Jenny Barchfield, review of Away from You, p. 55.
Publishers Weekly, September 5, 2005, review of Away from You, p. 34.
Best Reviews, http://www.thebestreviews.com/ (November 17, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of Away from You.
Penguin Web site, http://www.penguin.co.uk/ (November 17, 2005), interview with Melanie Finn.