I know Ways With Words finished on Sunday but thanks to the joys of the blog, we can and will make it last a few days longer.
Fiction events at literary festivals are often quite tricky to pull off but it's a good combination to pair an author whose novel has been read by many with another author whose novel has only recently been published. As a fellow eventer and I agreed, it's a good way to discover a book you may perhaps have passed over.
Lloyd Jones of much-lauded Mister Pip fame matched with Philip Hensher whose recent novel The Northern Clemency has gathered a host of mixed and interesting reviews. Here's my copy of Mister Pip getting a signature and Lloyd Jones asking me if it was the same dovegreyreader quoted in the Guardian, and Philip Hensher about to tell me he has heard of it too.
It's a known fact that I adored Mister Pip from the cover onwards the day I discovered a discarded unread review copy in the Oxfam shop in Marylebone High St. This was before it made the Booker long and shortlist last year and so it was wonderful to hear Lloyd Jones speak in person about the novel's origins.
I guess Lloyd Jones has travelled the world talking about his novel and perhaps he always starts the talk with the audience question
' I doubt anyone's been to Bougainville?'
You'd hardly expect the affirmative in dear old Devon so he coped admirably with the unexpected response from a member of the audience who had lived there for four years.
Lloyd Jones quickly divulged that the first novel that had come to mind to embed within his story of civil war conflict on a Pacific island had been The Lord of the Flies, but that was all too tricky, Great Expectations far more apposite and far more successful and with that we all agreed.
Searching for imaginative risk and underpinning fable with realism seems to be a winning combination because there was much love for the novel expressed around the Great Hall.
One questioner asked whether the violence in the book was based on fact.
Lloyd Jones acknowleged he was a magpie when it came to storing up ideas for fiction and assured us it was, much of it had been heard whilst in the company of the revolutionary leader and on hearing the minutiae Lloyd had been forced to keep dashing out to the toilet.
I assumed this was to throw up copiously on hearing about people being fed to the pigs but in fact it was to discreetly write down all the details.
Philip Hensher then elaborated on his own love for the realist novel and and the illusion that the conversation established by a book can carry on beyond the final page of a novel where you have come to know the characters well. This is not about readers admiring the scaffolding, this is about readers engaging with the narrative and, despite the recent past being the most remote and difficult history to delineate with any accuracy, Philip Hensher has gone for it with his huge doorstop of a novel on life in Sheffield from 1974 to 1994. I love well-written doorstops and it awaits to be seen on July 29th whether The Northern Clemency fulfills Telegraph Literary Editor Sam Leith's prediction that it will make the Booker long list this year.
I'm waiting for the book to arrive but in that case may be reading it sooner than planned, the Bookerthon gets underway on here and hopefully (unless he's chickened out!) John Self's Asylum very soon...anyone else up for the challenge?
By Philip Hensher's own admission The Northern Clemency is an autobiographical novel, which led me to have instant and very confusing thoughts.
It's no wonder poor readers like me are wading around in Death of the Author arguments and mired in the criticism often levelled at us, which I do find slightly disparaging, that we assume a book is about an author's life when really we shouldn't be so daft because of course it's not. More and more writers seem to be owning up to having overcome the shame and guilt they feel for doing it and then mining their own lives remorselessly for novel material, so perhaps readers are not so daft after all.
In any case frankly who cares as long as it's a great read and a case in point, Remember Me the latest from Melvyn Bragg, so far a brilliant and uncompromising novel, a remarkable book and one I will write about at length eventually.
Lloyd Jones led us into some final thoughts which have lingered long after the event in my mind as issues of the value of literature and the power of the imagination were mentioned. David Grossman said it,Lloyd Jones quoted it, I sort of managed to write it down and it's along the lines of mass media creates masses, literature creates individuals.
I like that.