Monday was a bit of a busy day for me at the Book Festival. Well, I say busy, but it was spent mostly sitting down listening to lots of authors. I had lunch and a lovely chat with blogger @pamreader and also bumped into and had a chat with blogger @lizzysiddall As I saw so many authors, I’ll do my best to keep this shorter than an average novel!
First author of the day was Prue Leith, famous of course as a cook, businesswoman, tv broadcaster and writer of many cookbooks. In recent years she has turned her hand to fiction and she was here to talk about the second book in her Food of Love trilogy The Prodigal Daughter which will be published by Quercus in September. It follows Angelica Angelotti, who has grown up in her family’s Italian restaurant business but has moved to Paris in 1968 to study French cooking. Amidst the drama and violence of the Paris student riots, she falls in love. Prue Leith was asked if love was more important that food in this trilogy to which she replied “Love is more important than anything!” She said she is not ashamed of writing love stories as all the great stories are about love. However she does get annoyed that when women write love stories it is classified as women’s fiction, chick-lit or commercial fiction, whereas a man will be said to have written with deep psychological insight and piercing analysis!
Next I went to listen to James Naughtie talk about his second novel, Paris Spring which is due to be published in paperback next month. Funnily enough, it is also set during the student riots in Paris in 1968. He said one reason he wanted to write about this period of time was that he felt people had forgotten how melodramatic politics can be. He pointed that this was before the events of this summer with the Brexit vote and all that has happened in politics since! He said it had been a challenge moving from writing and broadcasting as a journalist to writing fiction. It had been fun to be able to make things up since he had spent a lifetime trying not to! He finds it fascinating how people respond to events, difficulties and threats. I expect he has seen this so much in his journalistic life that he has a lot of knowledge to draw on. One thing he had particularly enjoyed about writing fiction was creating dialogue. As a journalist, this isn’t something he’d had to do before. He felt his radio background helped when turning to fiction. Unlike tv journalists, radio journalism is about explaining what it’s like to be somewhere, what you can see, smell, hear. The job of a radio journalist is to capture and atmosphere and authenticity is important. Words matter, they are powerful and he has always enjoyed using words whether as a journalist or now as an author. I should say that James Naughtie was very witty and often had the audience laughing. A very entertaining hour.
After lunch, it was time to hear debut novelists Mary Paulson-Ellis and Nicholas Searle. Both these authors’ books are up for the First Book Award at the Festival. They both read from their books before chatting about them. I read Mary Paulson-Ellis’ book The Other Mrs Walker earlier this year and think it is excellent (read my review here). She read from the very beginning of the book and I can’t imagine listening to this very intriguing start about the lonely death of an old woman, with only a few strange objects in her house, and not immediately wanting to go to read the book! I haven’t read Nicholas Searle’s The Good Liar yet but I have a copy as my book group are reading it later this year. His book also sounds very intriguing being about a couple in their 80s who meet via internet dating. He explained that this had been inspired initially by an experience of an elderly relative of his. As both of these books use different periods of times throughout, I asked how the authors kept a track of what they were going to reveal and when. Nicholas Searle said that he had kept most of it in his head. He said that if he couldn’t keep the plot in his head, he couldn’t expect his reader to. Mary Paulson-Ellis said that she had similar intentions but had created a kind of reverse spreadsheet after she’d written the book but focussing on the objects. As they appear in both the past and present she wanted to ensure these significant moments were clear.
Next I went to see Joanna Cannon who wrote the wonderful The Trouble with Goats and Sheep due out later this year in paperback. (Read my review here) She was appearing with Yewande Omotoso whose novel is The Woman Next Door This book looks at the relationship between two neighbours in a Cape Town community, who absolutely hate each other. Both these books are exploring the hidden secrets of suburbia but through the eyes of very different narrators: 10 year old Grace in Joanna Cannon’s book and two women in their 80s in Yewande Omotoso’s novel. As both authors read, the humour in the books were clear despite some dark subject matter. Both agreed that you need the humour or the books would be too intense. Yewande said that humour is the lubrication to get you through the dark issues. I was interested in how both women’s professional careers influence or help their writing. Joanna Cannon is a psychiatrist and explained how a psychiatric patient is the ultimate unreliable narrator and how she looks for non-verbal clues. Similarly she enjoyed using Grace as an unreliable narrator leaving her reader to look for the non-verbal clues they pick up on as an adult. Yemande Omotoso is an architect, which might not seem immediately to be a career that would help writing. However, she said she is used to building a structure and she enjoyed fitting her story together, using layers and metaphors.
The last event for the day was to hear Jessie Burton and Susan Fletcher. Jessie Burton’s most recent novel is The Muse (read my review here) and Susan Fletcher’s is Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew I didn’t have the best of seats hence the slightly arty photo above, as I looked through the glass partitions in a packed Spiegeltent. Both authors read passages from their novels which were beautifully descriptive, invoking quite a clear picture of their settings. Jessie Burton’s novel has as its muse a man, Isaac Robles, which is quite unusual as it’s more usually a woman considered a muse. In Susan Fletcher’s novel, Vincent van Gogh paints Jeanne, in her 50s she is the wife of the warden of the asylum he is in. Jeanne was attracted to van Gogh in some way despite his apparent madness. I loved that Susan said that “It doesn’t matter what age we are, we are still girls inside” – how true! Both writers spoke of being compelled to write, that their writing isn’t just a hobby. “I write because I don’t have the answers,” said Jessie Burton, “I write from a place of curiosity.” They also spoke of the weight of expectation after both their debut novels were so successful. When asked if there had been a muse or a mentor, someone who inspired them, Susan Fletcher said that being around other writers was a great inspiration as was attending events like the Book Festival. Jessie Burton agreed saying that interaction with readers mattered much more to her than a review in the newspapers.
So a busy but very enjoyable day for me. I hope you are enjoying reading my little reports. Have you been to the Book Festival this year and who have you seen? Or is there a book festival nearer to home you have been to or are going to? Let me know!