Society of Authors (North) at Manchester Imperial War Museum Saturday 11th October

005Last week I had the pleasure of meeting up again with Maggie Gee at the Society of Authors (North) conference at the Imperial War Museum. I’d read as the ‘warm up’ act for Maggie several years ago when she gave a reading at my university, Edge Hill in Ormskirk. My first novel, Consider The Lilies was about to be published, such an exciting time for me after winning the first Impress Prize and I was thrilled to be reading with Maggie who had written many novels, and been shortlisted for the Orange prize with The White Family. I never forgot how kind she was to me on that occasion, taking a real interest in my book. She spent a long time talking to me about my writing in the pub after the reading and even agreed to write a review of my book to help with publicising it. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity of seeing her again and I wasn’t disappointed.
On this occasion she was in conversation with her husband Nicholas Rankin who was equally charming and is well-known in the non-fiction world for his historical and biographical work. We were treated to an engaging dialogue between two writers living their married lives together and giving us a candid insight into their happy relationship and the way they manage their writing careers.
I came away with a copy of Maggie’s memoir, My Animal Life which I am now engrossed in, recalling her lightness of literary touch and her candour in examining her own history. I was born in the same era so there are lots of resonances for me here even though our lives were and are very different. I’m amazed by how many personal memories have surfaced in my mind while reading this book, some scenes coming back 50 years later in clear detail. It’s strange how memory is triggered, what is consciously retained, what is buried to return at odd moments and what is irrevocably lost. There is also the question of how much of our memories are real, what distortions our perceptions at the time subjected them to as well as the warping of memory through the distance of time.
These are some of the issues I like to explore in my fiction writing, how childhood memory influences the people we become and the way we see the world and what if anything, can change these perceptions. However, reading Gee’s book has made me tinker with the idea of writing a memoir myself but I shrink from telling the ‘absolute’ truth as I see it, knowing that my friends and family will doubtless one day be reading it. Also, I find that writing non-fiction tends to take over and swamp my fiction work and I have a number of projects on the go at the moment, so this is one to go on the back burner but thank you Maggie Gee, you are an inspiration to me, and I will be revisiting your other books as part of my winter reading.

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