Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Horses for Courses

As part of the annual Literature Festival, a couple of friends and I went to Ilkley to hear authors, Isabel Ashdown and Marika Cobbold speak.

When I posted our plans with great excitement on Facebook, a respected friend left a flip comment stating in no uncertain terms that he’d like to leave the house on a drizzly Sunday evening to hear two people talk about writing, as much as I’d like to mistakenly find myself in the opposition stand at a football match. I admit to being a little offended on the authors’ behalf and deleted the comment. However I rallied myself with a sharp attempt at rationality and the voice I’d use with the children to remind them about horses for courses.

However, it did get me thinking, why DO we like to hear writers talk about their work?

The three of us make a motley crew. One friend is very well read and always has something intelligent to say without a hint at any pretention. With the pick of all the classics at her fingertips, I remember her choosing Dancing In My Nuddy-pants for a since disbanded book group as she wanted to see if we could see what her daughter saw in the humour – like all the books we ever chose, it received a mixed and lively response.  

Her reason for attending the authors’evening was simple. She was exhausted and stressed and needed an early night with a hot water bottle but as there was a dearth of culture in her life of late, it was important she came.

Our second member is more of a non-fiction reader, finding herself all too often frustrated by ‘contrived’ novel plot and subplots, but she is also open to persuasion. It would be fair to say that she was keen to be somewhere other than her own home, having spent as long as she could bear in recuperation after her death-defying 53mph fall from her bike down an otherwise spectacular mountain in the Pyrenees.

Then there’s me, also a book junkie but generally incapable of remembering an author’s name, or indeed the title of their novel. However, I can be relied upon to describe the cover and central plot line in detail, enforcing an impromptu quiz-cum-charades game for anyone daring to ask what I’m currently reading.

I’m always keen for ideas for new reads, although I like surprises so a teaser will suffice and anything more makes me jumpy.  Hearing about the gem from which the book was born and how the characters become who they are, always interests me. Book signings are a bonus and impress my children but I wouldn’t say I was a groupie - just who would get the washing on, help with homework, scrub the toilet, write a novel while I wasted such great chunks of quality time flying around the country? - however, that isn’t to say that I didn’t stutter and fluster and leave her looking a little perplexed when I first met the wonderful Maggie O’ Farrell. So bad was the spectacle I made of myself, I didn’t join the end of the very long line for her book signing at a second meeting, for fear she’d recognise me.

But more important than all of that, I enjoy the company of fellow writing hermits who spend more time than can possibly be good for them, on their own at their keyboard for precious little pay and months, nay, years of little feedback. Hearing writers speak is like attending my own group therapy session; an evening with a motivational guru doubling as mediator between the frustrations of breaking into this hugely competitive and ever-changing market and the reminder that there are few better places to share your days than in your imagination with your characters. It’s comforting to know that in my insanity, I share wholesome company.

Many thanks to Isabel Ashdown and Marika Cobbold for a truly inspiring, supportive and entertaining evening in Ilkley.  I’d already cried for Jake and reminisced with a wince reading Ashdown’s Glass Hopper and Hurry Up and Wait (I spared you the charades) and recommend both for a smile and a cry. After laughing out loud at Cobbold’s uplifting take on life and writing, I was compelled to let Guppies For Tea leapfrog my To Be Read pile. I'm currently engulfed with anger for Gerald, frustration for Amelia and great sympathy for Selma whilst recognising that she would, truly, be a difficult house guest.  It’s an amusing but soul searching read which I’m in no hurry to finish - although, happily, Cobbold has six other novels to her name.

And the other two of our motley crew, did they enjoy the evening? Yes! We bought four books between us. “Fascinating,” my death-defying friend said,“put me off wanting to be a writer though.”  

Back to those horses for courses. 


  1. Hi Jackie - what an interesting post! It was a pleasure to meet you at Ilkley, and fascinating to hear more about your own writing life. Thanks for reading - and good luck with all that writing and rewriting we talked about. I'll soon be shutting myself away for most of November, becoming one of those hermits you mention in your post ... All the very best, Isabel :)

  2. Thanks Isabel :) You know, I like your idea of shutting yourself away in November. I might join you in that and emerge for Christmas. Good idea!I'll see how I get on over the next couple of weeks with the WIP. Good luck with all your projects and of course, book three.

  3. Great post, and great blog. Thanks.

  4. Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I had a look at your impressive crafts and jewellery, better keep my daughter off your site, I think...!

  5. Loved the blog, you certainly inspired me to read these books! Very unkind as I have got so many in my pile already. Ah well will just have to give up sleep I suppose.

  6. Excellent! Isabel and Marika can pay me later ... ;) Seriously, I'd love to hear what you think about them.


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