Monday, 29 November 2021

Michael Joseph Proof Party, Henley town hall

IT was a real treat to attend the proof party of Claire Alexander’s debut novel, Meredith, Alone, due to be published in June 2022 and set to be one of next summer’s big literary hits.

Alexander, who was in conversation with Daisy Buchanan, described the book as “unexpectedly timely” because it addresses the issue of self-isolation and of “being alone”, even though it was written before the pandemic.

Buchanan said it is an “accidentally resonant” novel because readers have now all lived through their own versions of isolation and separation.

Alexander started writing the book in October 2019 and was interested in the reasons why someone — her character, Meredith — would be unable to leave the house and she was keen to explore the difference between loneliness and being alone.

Little did she know that in less than a year we would all be forced to stay home and would miss seeing friends and family. As a result, Alexander said the writing of Meredith’s story actually became quite therapeutic and that the character of Meredith helped her through lockdown because she had already lived it through the writing of her novel.

Speaking with a soft Scottish accent and oozing warmth, Alexander looked delighted throughout.

After 20 years of trying to write, she said she was happy to simply finish a draft, let alone get it published. It was, she suspects, the book she was always meant to write.

The evening covered writing, reading and publishing with social media even being viewed in a positive light.

Alexander thinks it can be quite intimate and that online friendships can grow, as they they did for her through online writing courses she took.

Social media also keeps us connected, especially in recent times, and for her character Meredith it is a lifeline.

The evening was cheery but questions delved deep into emotional topics — namely family and the idea of choosing family.

In the book Meredith’s biological family is very dark and complicated, whereas her chosen family are warm and supportive.

Alexander believes it is true that “friends can be more like family”. She also said she likes to explore the relationships of sisters and thinks it is a very interesting way to write about women, naming Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women as one of her favourite books.

As Alexander and Buchanan talked about Meredith, it felt as though she was with us. As discussions of being alone and isolation and lockdown took over, it felt as if she was guiding us — the expert on this before it all began.

I left excited to read the book, but also with the feeling of a shared experience, that the story I was taking home belongs to all of us and that is why Meredith, Alone is both “accidentally resonant” and “unexpectedly timely” — and why we can expect to hear a lot more about her when the book is published next summer.

Laura Healy

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