[DWJ] Bristol Reader's Day Part Two

Elizabeth G. Holtrop elizabeth at bouma-holtrop.com
Thu Jun 15 16:37:04 EDT 2006

Thanks for Part Two, Ven.  I'm really enjoyed your in-depth accounts.

Ven <vendersleighc at yahoo.com> wrote:  The second session of the day was a panel
discussion with all four of the featured authors.
The first thing asked of them  was that they
recommended something they had recently read.

Tessa Hadley's choice was 
Soldiers of Salamis - Javier Cercas (HAVier
ZerCAS according to a Spanish speaking audience
member) concerning the Spanish Civil War.

Tim Cole went with After daybreak -- Ben Shepherd
-- about the liberation of Belsen.

Andrew Taylor chose Black Swan Green -- David
Mitchell  about a boy growing up in the 1980's
during the Falklands War. He declared a personal
interest, the protagonist, like Taylor himself,
has a stammer. He may well have said it was the
best depiction of the pain and frustration of
stammering he'd seen, certainly one of the best.
As a childhood stammerer myself I'm very keen to
read this now. Diana Wynne Jones chipped in at
this point. One of her sons had (or has) a
stammer. She said it was difficult when he was
very young and they didn't know what it was that
was making it hard for him to talk. However she
thought it had had a positve effect on his
vocabulary, if he couldn't say a particular word
he would have top come up with a way round it. At
one point he couldn't say "Stew" and called it a
dumpling meal without dumplings! I've always
thought my stammer helped me to expand my
vocabulary in much the same way, and also my
grasp of sentence structure. I would have to find
different ways to organise a sentence in order to
"get it out".

When it came to Diana's turn she rather sighed
and said she would like to be recommending some
fantasy but recently she had been encountering
the bad kind in which the Dark Lord goes around
killing everyone as a matter of routine and the
hero is some kid of ignoble origins apprenticed
to the village blacksmith. So she went with The
Number One Ladies Detective Agency series --
Alexander McCall Smith. I was a bit dissapointed
with this choice, I've read one of these books
and really wasn't overimpressed (for one thing I
was expecting it to more of a mystery novel than
it was). However an interesting discussion
between authors and audience ensued. Someone
brought up the foolish idea some people have that
McCall Smith had no business writing about a lady
in Botswana as he is a Scottish male. After
covering his background in Southern Africa (which
after all must mean he does ghave some idea of
whiat he writes)  one of  the authors -- Tessa
Hadley  I think  -- said nobody said this kind of
thing about historical novels. She's recently
been reading a rather good one set in seventeenth
century Denmark and she said no one would expect
it to be a worthless book unless the author were
a genuine seventeenth century Dane.

Diana went on to recommend Lois Macmasters
Bujold, in particular Paladin of Souls.
Unfortunately I've forgotten the particular bit
she singled out for admiration. It's something
about the heroine's rather pragmatic reaction to
unexpectedly meeting a ghost on the stairs. I
recently bought a copy so when I reread I may
get my memory jogged.

The next thing to come up was whether they wrote
with a specific audience in mind. Diana was
emphatic in saying "No, it kills the story."  She
had trouble early in her career when she had an
editor who just didn't seem to like her books (I
wonder if that was the one who objected to David
striking matches in Eight Days of Luke on the
grounds that children should not be encouraged to
play with fire). If she worried that this person
wouldn't like something  it had a most inhibiting
efffect so she did her best to forget about them.
She thought you should write for the sake of the
story. Tessa said that when reading back through
her drafts she had some idea of a "recieving
mind" so she could ask herself if they would
understand, would they be bored and so on.  Diana
said she tries to read with a fresh eye, as
though making youself your audience. They seemed
to think they were, in fact, pretty much talking
about the same thing. Andrew Cole said he did
write for his fellow historians -- he felt this
would be one of the differences between fiction
and non fiction writers. He went on to talk about
reviews --  and said it was  disconcerting when
say holocaust deniers were quoting/his books and
using his work. However he rather resignedly said
it went with the territory.

They continued to talk about reviewers and
critics. Diana said critics could have the most
surprising ideas of one's work. Apparently one
said that all (yes ALL) of her characters in all
of her books were the same person. This didn't
worry her too much however. She said that once
books are published and "out there" the book
belongs to the readers. But she then apologised
to people who had been made to study her books
according to the peculiar views of certain
academics. Tessa talked about films made of the
works of Rumer Godden (a writer she hopes will
come back into vogue). She contrasted one she
felt to be a travesty (Black Narcissus)  with
another she thought was done well. She is
concerned that the power of television of film is
such that it overwhelms the imagination. IE once
she has seen a film of a book she will always
imagine the chjartacters as if played by those
actors. I don't think I agree with this. While
Lady Dedlock will always be Diana Rigg to me I
don't feel this way about any of the other
characters I have seen in the (two) television
adaptations of the last twenty years so it's more
a tribute to the power of Dame Diana than of
television in general. 

Andrew Taylor said a review in (I think) a South
African magazinbe said that one of his novels was
a fine read but he was sorry for the unneccessary
sex scenes. Andrew was so surprised by this that
he reread his own book looking for the smut but
couldn't find any!

Diana said  she felt that direct replies to
critics -- no matter how wrong headed -- were
best left alone asd it only made one look a
charlie! She preferred to respond by writing
something else that would "show them". Or by
making wax figurines.

Somehow they got around to the subject of a
recent novel in which someone has retold Howard's
End. There seemed to be some doubt as to whether
HE was old enough for someone to do this. On the
other hand it was a very traditional part of
story telling to transform older stories. Diana
said that in particular when writing for children
it was a way of introducing them to stuff before
they encountered the original.

Among other things covered was the gender
imbalance of the Reader's Day itself -- the
authors were 2 men and 2 women but the audience
was (I think) 100% female. This led to how hard
it is to get boys to read. 

I also have a couple of notes on the matter of
history and lies -- how do you know history is
the truth. Tim Cole talked about how personal
accounts of historical events could be somewhat
banal. He said something about "fitting
experience into the conventional words available
to ordinary folk". Historians he felt could
describe things in ways .......... more vivid?
more pointed? more something. I think hmmmmmmmm
and note that Jenny Pausacker later talked about
reading the reminiscences of centenarian veterans
as a way of gaining insight and perspective into
what it was like to have been in this dangerous
and world changing situations.

Again I'll say that I have written this from
notes and there is some pretty free paraphrasing
going on. I have tried my best to give the gist
of what was said and not to misrepresent anyone.
I found all the speakers to be stimulating and I
liked the way they interacted with each other.
It's with some regret that I note I've had least
to report about Andrew Taylor. I'm not sure if
this is because he said less or I wrote down
less, I'm certainly going to look for his books
(as soon as I've finished with the ones I
bought/borrowed in London.

Part three will be the reading discussion with
Diana, sorry I'm making you all wait.


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