The first time I met a real life writer was when Maya Angelou came to Manchester a few years ago. She was signing copies of her latest book in Waterstone’s and then later appeared at the Free Trade Hall. I queued outside Waterstone’s to get my book signed. I had this whole speech planned about how much I admired her and her writing but when it came to it I said, “Would you mind signing a copy for mum as well?” I was totally in awe of her.
The same thing happened the year before last at Manchester Literature Festival. I went to hear Maggie O’Farrell read from her novel, ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’. It was a great night, Anne Enright also read from ‘The Gathering’ which won the Booker Prize a few days later. I waited patiently at the end of the talks to get my book signed and – nothing. Again. I could only just about mutter my name.
There’s something about writers that for me is almost sacred. They weave magic and connect with you in a way that no-one else can. A book or a play or poem is a sort of bringing together of two people. The writer brings the words, providing characters, structure and plot. The reader brings his or her own experiences and past, providing a unique interpretation of the piece. The bit in the middle is where the writing ‘lives’.
Given my thoughts on writers, I’m always fascinated to read about their everyday lives and their process of writing. Mslexia and Waterstone’s Books Quarterly provide some great interviews. And I love The Write Place on ‘The Book Show’ (Sky Arts) where writers show you around their study and talk about how they write. Apparently, Tracy Chevalier redecorates her room each time she starts a new novel. All fascinating stuff.
I am also very interested in writers who blog. Jenn Ashworth has a blog called Every Day I Lie a Little. I first became aware of her work last year at Manchester Literature Festival, where she won the prize for ‘Best Writing on a Blog’. She also ‘tweets’ at http://twitter.com/jennashworth. In fact it was through Twitter that I became aware of her debut novel, ‘A Kind of Intimacy’ and I subsequently bought it, read it and enjoyed it very much.
At the same time as buying Jenn Ashworth’s book I also bought ‘Daphne’ by Justine Picardie. This is a compelling read, which fired my interest in the Brontes once again. I was doing some work at John Rylands Library a few years ago and came across some letters that Charlotte Bronte had written to Elizabeth Gaskell. One letter in particular stayed with me as it described how the sisters travelled to London to meet their publisher for the first time. You can imagine their publisher’s surprise when confronted with the Bronte sisters, instead of the men they thought they had been dealing with. But I digress. When I got to the end of Justine Picardie’s novel I found a link to her blog, which I’ve been reading with interest ever since.
I’m not sure exactly what the draw is. Maybe that the writer has always seemed slightly anonymous up until now. From the writer’s point of view it’s a means of valuable feedback direct from the reader. I’ve always wondered what it must be like when you finish a book. It is published and sent out to book shops and you can’t grab it back. You can’t edit it anymore. It’s out there. Yes there are reviews and feedback at literary events and signings. But the idea of the reader interacting with the writer via a blog creates a whole new channel of communication and direct feedback on a much larger scale.
I’m going to Hay in a few weeks time. Hope I’m not too tongue tied when it comes to the signings.