At our Book Group meeting last week, we discussed 'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie. Unfortunately it wasn't generally liked and, interestingly, we found ourselves discussing our perceptions of the author almost as much as the content of the book. Of course Rushdie has had a higher profile than most authors, but I do have to confess that my knowledge of an author (however slight), or the story of how a novel was inspired and created, can influence my approach to their work.
This weekend I attended the Charleston Literature Festival. I had booked just one talk on each of the three days of my stay and hadn't been adventurous in my choice. The sessions, then, were entertaining and informative, but not particularly challenging. But there was one surprise: Edward St Aubyn. I knew nothing of him or his writing, but my friend she hadn't got on with the one book of his she had tried. He spoke of his new book alongside Esther Freud and they proved interesting foils.
St Aubyn, with a drawling voice, and eyes fixed to the floor or some distant corner of the book tent, seemed at first to find attending such an event beneath him. But, as the session continued, it became apparent that he was ill at ease with making himself available for analysis. He writes about things he cannot bring himself to talk about, he explained when the interviewer wanted to cross-examine him about the autobiographical content of his novels. And the process of producing the books seemed to be quite tortuous. Revealing a wry, self-deprecating humour, which was more and more apparent as the session continued, he explained that he had to lock himself away in a windowless room, painted dark blue, in order to attempt to complete the books at all. He was an intriguing character and, while I am not still not immediately drawn to his books, I feel now that I should at least give them a try.
Had a great attendance for Robert Radcliffe at Browsers this evening, talking about his latest novel Dambuster. The author talks always draw more men than the book groups I hold at Browsers, but it was just about 50:50 this evening due to the nature of the subject.
I had the privilege of 'interviewing' Robert this evening (though really it was more a case of giving him chance to take breath and a sip of water). He was a very confident speaker even when battling to be heard over a pack of squealing, fighting dogs outside, and seeking to swat a fly which wanted to steal the limelight.
It was interesting to hear a different perspective on the writing process from Robert. He says he plans very carefully and knows exactly what is going to happen next; there is no danger of the characters taking the story in another direction for him. In fact he writes cvs for all his characters, he says. He writes from 6am to 4pm five days a week, and each book takes a year - six months research and six months to write.
I really wanted this evening's event with Amanda Hodgkinson to be a success because I so enjoyed the book - 22 Britannia Road. And with the author coming from Suffolk (and looking so familiar in her publicity photo!), it seemed even more important that it should do well here. Unfortunately there weren't huge numbers in attendance but actually it was a lovely gathering. This was Amanda's first event. But she's speaking at Waterstone's in Ipswich tomorrow and then goes on tour of independent bookshops in America! She gave a thoughtful and informative account of how the book came about and everyone left clutching a book and eager to start reading.
Just managed to place a knitted Kate on the balcony to join William today. Knit Your Own Royal Wedding books now flying out of the shop!
Travelled all the way to Cambridge after work to hear Rob Bell this evening. He has just published a book called 'Love Wins' which has met with huge controversy. I've enjoyed his Nooma DVD series (though confess I haven't read his two other books because I haven't got over their format), and thought he'd be great to hear speak. But this event was an example of how not to do it. Quite reassuring considering I have a number of events to run in the next few weeks, but disappointing being a member of the paying audience.
The event was held in the impressive Cambridge Corn Exchange and the audience was large, young, energetic and supportive. Rob Bell was confident but, I think, exhausted. This was his last talk in a tour of eight, or 12 cities, he wasn't quite sure. He was meant to speak for 20 minutes and then be interviewed. He managed 10, telling three disparate stories which certainly had no relevance to his book's theme of heaven and hell. Unfortunately he also mumbled and the amplification was bad. This became worse and worse as the evening progressed. His interviewee, Maggie Dawn, seemed excellent, when we could hear what she was saying but most of the time, even though we were sitting midway in the hall, it seemed as though we were eavesdropping on some private conversation. But perhaps it was an age thing. All the 20-somethings were participating in the question and answer session, and whooping and guffawing where appropriate. We came away feeling very short changed. Not only had we understood nothing about the book's themes and argument, but we didn't even feel we'd got to know any more about Rob Bell.