I spent a whole Saturday in the presence of some authors – 10 to be precise at the Guildford Book Festival Readers Day. I had heard about this day from a lady when I went to the newbooks magazine event back in April, and I was really delighted to be able to go to this one.
As you can see it was a jam-packed day, and there is plenty to talk about so I am going to invariably split this up into more than one post – that way you will not fall asleep whilst reading it!
The journey was painless, and it was nice to be on a train and just stare out at the countryside as it whizzed past. I was there with plenty of time to spare, because I like to make sure I know where I am going. The Electric Theatre was so easy to find from the railway station that I will have no problem next time.
Lots of people milling about and time for a coffee and to peruse the plan for the day and have a sneaky look at the book stall set up there. I am always surprised at the amount of ladies at these events, there were a few men, but it seems perhaps that if men read they don’t want to spend the whole day talking about it? I am not sure how many people were there, perhaps 60 but it was a good number and great to see all these people enthusing about the books and the authors. I was also pleased to see so many people with little notebooks and pens ready to take notes and recommendations from the authors. I thought I would be the only one; it is this which is forming these posts.
Into the theatre and with a great view in the second row it was time to welcome our compere/MC/interviewer for the day, Guy from newbooks magazine. His unique way of welcoming the authors for the day was to find out some little known facts about the authors that could be picked up from the internet, some authors were much easier to track down on the internet and others were not – but I think all the facts did turn out to be true, even if they did need a little bit of explaining! I had an overwhelming sense of the day being like the BBC television programme My Life in Books.
First up there was Sadie Jones (The Outcast, Small Wars and The Uninvited Guests) and Steve Mosby (Dark Room, Black Flowers plus more) covering what they had read in the last year. Sadie is an author known to me I have read all 3 of her books but Steve Mosby was not, but I recognised the name. Steve was one of the first people to sign the open letter regarding the recent ‘sock-puppets’ furore, where in particular RJ Ellory admitted writing good reviews for his books and bad ones for his contemporaries. Steve a winner of a CWA Dagger in the Library for 2012, was interviewing Stephen Leather when he let slip about this, but for some reason as Steve said the journalists seemed to let it slip by. The name and now the face had a relevance to me. It was very interesting to hear that Sadie Jones had no idea of this ‘sock-puppet’ concept which was rather reassuring as a reader. I could also tell that Guy was rather disappointed in such a concept especially as Ellory had been at the newbooks event back in April.
When talking about books of the year, mention must go to the phenomenon which was/is 50 Shades of Grey. Neither author had read it, although they had read a tremendous amount about it (Sadie) and if it got people reading then we should not perhaps be so scathing that it is not a great literary work (Steve) and the only person that volunteered to admit they had read it in the audience – was me! When asked what I thought, I commented that it seriously need a good editor with a pair of scissors, dreadfully written with a lot of repetition but once this was all stripped away was not a very good story. I agree with Sadie and actually everything written about it is far more interesting than the actual book. I secondly agree with Steve and yes if it got people reading then fair enough. However it was worth noting and was something that I had never considered before that the publisher’s runaway financial success with such a book allows all those other authors to be published and keep writing so we can keep reading.
So what books did these authors mentioned, I will try and recall as many as I can, and for sure they are going to be added to my wish list which when you go to these events grows and grows like the perennial weed.
She came to Stay – Simone De Beauvoir
The Lighthouse – Alison More
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink (This was mentioned in the Meet the Author Session)
From what these authors said (and most of those there for the day) whilst they are writing their own work they cannot read fiction for fear of it crossing over into their own work. They more read non fiction pieces of work than anything. In fact in some cases, using a particular phrase in their book only to have the niggle that it was used somewhere else, and having to seek where from on their own book shelf. That is dedication to a craft and to us readers as well and has huge respect.
Sadie and Steve’s writer’s day followed a similar sort of pattern – needing to get out into a pub, café and just type and have an aim for a word count by the end of the day. Steve who writes crime fiction starts with character and then plot comes later. A rather intriguing way of dealing with a genre that probably relies a lot on a plot to be able to get to the end. Sadie dreamed about her latest book (The Uninvited Guests), the same house, and the same people in it and treated the characters and plot as a cake, making a perfect one to only then at the end make complete mess of it. The denouement and twist which is what makes the book good, and her metaphor was probably right!
So for these two authors, what is 2013 going to bring. A new book from Steve (although a bit behind on the deadline front) and Sadie is working on her new novel, a complete move away from her last 3, set in theatre and in the nineteen seventies. EBooks are going to grow, which both authors acknowledged although they are not keen on them personally as a reading experience but if it again gets people reading then so be it. The hope that bookshops and independent ones continue as well and that any closures are minimal. Books as an object cannot decline (hear hear) there is something about holding that story in your hands! Many of the authors throughout the day commented on such a thing. Books are wonderful objects for cherishing. Publishers have to make money and do so with the major sellers (50 Shades of Grey) but they must not forget the readers and their particular favourite authors and all the new ones out there.
I was very lucky that one of the Meet the Author session was with Sadie Jones, discussing Small Wars. There were about 15 people broken away from the main group; the others spoke to the other authors there about a particular book. It was lovely to hear what the author went through to write the book, the details researched and the time spent, (six months) with the army. Others commented (myself included) that she had captured the service life very well in the book especially as she had no personal experience of a service life and this was all based on research. The title of the book was something that we discussed and that was any war small? Was the war her marriage? When you have read a book, questions can come and make you perhaps look at things different. Sadie shared that she had received letters from male army personnel who served out there at the time, praising her for her work and how it had enabled them to talk about it some forty years later about what had happened. Although she was not an ardent feminist or pacifist to the point of being pushy, it was clear this was her stance. To write a book which dealt with this and also the rape tested Sadie as a writer as it did us readers.
Sadie was interested to hear what we as readers thought happened to the characters when the book is over. In the case of Small Wars, Hal and Clara were going to be alright; I think was the general consensus. Talk obviously covered her first book The Outcast where we all felt moved by the character of Lewis who Sadie loved and again, the process of what happens after we close the back cover and the book is over. It was really lovely to think that an author was touched about what we thought was happening to these characters once they had left her pen. This also comes back on the question asked as to whether there would be a sequel. Sadie comments on who is benefiting from the sequel; the reader or the author and if it is only for the author the characters lose some strength and it ends up in a rather overt soap opera style novel and the main themes are lost. It certainly no longer has any impact, which The Outcast certainly did.
And so time runs away with you and it must be time for a tea break. Whilst I buy two books; Steve Mosby’s which he signed and I bought another copy of Small Wars so I could have it signed by Sadie and also because it is over two years since I read it and discussing it, I felt I wanted to experience it all again.
Until after the break……