I’ve attended four events so far this week, with a couple more before the end of the week. First this week was another packed event in the main theatre: Maggie O’Farrell
Maggie O’Farrell is always fascinating to listen to and this time the audience learned not just about her most recent novel, This Must Be The Place, but also her newly published memoir, I Am I Am I Am. She spoke of the inspiration behind her novel, two separate events which she intertwined. In the first, she had been in the same cafe as a very famous actress who was clearly upset. She said she had a sense of what is must be like to be followed by the paparazzi all the time and never have any privacy. She felt that in the same position, she would want to fake her own death and disappear. The second incident was listening to a radio clip when, after it finished, the broadcaster said bluntly “and shortly after recording this, she died.” Maggie O’Farrell wondered what it would be like to have known that person but not have known they died until that moment. These two incidents were the inspiration for Claudette and Daniel in the book. I really enjoyed this book, as I have all her novels, and you can read my review of it here.
The memoir, I Am I Am I Am, looks at the author’s seventeen brushes with death – yes seventeen! I don’t think I’ve even had one, thank goodness. One of her children has severe allergies and has often spent time in hospital and in great pain. Much of her time is dedicated to simply keeping her alive. She said that she wrote the book partly as a way to help her daughter see that many people experiences very difficult times in life and almost to normalise this. It is certainly fair to say that the author has not led a dull life and this memoir sounds as though it will be as compelling as her fiction.
I have to confess that I really got tickets to see Stephen McGann as I think he is brilliant as Dr Turner in Call the Midwife! My daughter who also enjoys that wanted to come too. But as soon as he started to talk about his book, Flesh and Blood: A History of My Family in Seven Maladies, all thoughts of Dr Turner were gone. Like me, he has a keen interest in his family’s history and as anyone who has looked into their family history will know, once you start looking at old records, all kinds of questions need to be answered. I could identify so much with what he was saying about wanting to flesh out these people so they weren’t just names, to try to find out more about what they were doing and how they were living. Judging by the many nodding heads in the room, there were quite a few other people who agreed.
Stephen Turner has written his book in seven chapters each looking at an ailment or malady such as hunger, trauma or heart problems. As well as relating each to a different members of his family, he also then has looked into the ailment and the social history of the time. It sounded absolutely fascinating and so I just had to buy the book and am so looking forward to reading it. Stephen McGann was so passionate about his subject that this was genuinely one of the most interesting Book Festival events I have attended. My daughter and I took the opportunity to get the book signed and had a quick chat with him afterwards. He was very charming and as you can see was happy to get photographs taken.
On Thursday Thomas Enger and James Oswald, chaired by Lee Randall, spoke about a variety of topics such as where their inspiration comes from, how much of their own experiences go into the books, how they first came to create the protagonists of their series and both read from their latest novels: Cursed by Thomas Enger and Written in Bones by James Oswald.
I was really interested to hear about the very different approaches the authors have to planning their novels. Thomas Enger said that he spent about six months planning the series of Henning Juul books. Each would have an standalone crime but there would be an bigger arc across the series with Juul trying to find out why his son was murdered and by whom. He said that of course some ideas had changed as he wrote but that he was definitely a planner. By contrast, James Oswald told about the process for his most recent novel. He had intended to write a book about a circus or fair coming to the Meadows in Edinburgh. When visiting the Meadows, he looked up at the trees and suddenly had an image of a dead body high up in the branches of a winter bare tree. And so a completely different book was written!
Last week was Afternoon Tea Week and, a little late, I attended Afternoon Tea with Sara Sheridan. Well not just me and her, but a Spiegeltent full of people. It was a really lovely event which began with everyone being served a lovely afternoon tea as you can see from my photo above while the author circulated chatting with the audience. After this, Sara Sheridan was in conversation with Jenny Brown.
I was really interested to hear the inspiration for the Mirabelle Bevan books and why they were set in Brighton, not in Scotland. Her father had told her about visiting his grandmother in Brighton and seeing a very well dressed lady on the beach, trying to avoid paying the charge for a deck chair. He had always wondered why this affluent looking woman was doing this and Sara Sheridan decided to write a short story for his birthday giving this woman a story. This story quickly turned into the idea for the first Mirabelle Bevan book, Brighton Belle, and indeed for the series.
The author mentioned a few times that she is a quick writer. This is definitely evidenced with her most recent commission: Victoria and Albert – A Royal Love Affair. This is a companion book tying in with the recent ITV series Victoria. She was asked to wrote this in five weeks. Always up for a challenge, she completed it with three days to spare! The book will be published next month.
As if all this writing isn’t keeping her busy enough, she is also the founder of perfume company REEK. The idea behind this is to commemorate women in history, who are largely forgotten, and to treat contemporary women well. You will find no re-touched photos in any of their marketing campaigns. At the moment, two fragrances are available with the wonderfully evocative names of Damn Rebel Bitches and Damn Rebel Witches!
Hope you are enjoying reading my little round-ups. Watch out for the final one next week!