Friday, 19 August 2022

Yes, they floated our boat

Debuts on the Thames
The Hibernia

THERE are not many literary festivals that can boast readings on a boat, but Henley can.

It was a chilly but clear Sunday afternoon and the Hibernia gently rocked as a small crowd boarded to listen to “Debuts on the Thames”. As the boat slowly started its journey, it could have been somewhat distracting, given the beautiful Thames scenery, but the two debut writers were far more interesting.

Sharlene Teo talked about her book, Ponti, set in her native Singapore, a world away from the serene Thames, while Jenny Quintana introduced the audience to her novel — a thriller — The Missing Girl.

Sitting around tables covered with pristine white tablecloths, it could have felt quite formal, but the two authors quickly put the audience at ease with a combination of readings, information and humorous anecdotes.

As the boat travelled further down the Thames, we delved deeper into what it is like to become a writer. We heard about the benefits and disadvantages of writing courses — Sharlene graduated with a master’s in creative writing from the University of East Anglia and Jenny completed the Curtis Brown writing course.

They talked about how they write and, most interestingly, what happens and what it feels like once your book has been published, along with the fear of writing the second novel and all the expectation it carries.

Both writers were very different. Sharlene discussed the intensity of emotions for adolescent girls, especially in Singapore, while Jenny described how “grief makes ghosts of people”.

Despite their differences, it was noted that neither book has likeable characters — hard to imagine when they have been created by such likeable authors, but Sharlene and Jenny laughed that perhaps difficult characters are more compelling.

Similarly, both books have been described as having a “strong sense of place” and what could be more appropriate for readings on board a boat?

With the autumnal Thames as a picturesque backdrop, Sunday’s event was a truly fascinating journey.

Laura Healy

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