Saturday, 11 July 2020

Henley Literary Festival: Book Group Monday, Festival Hub

Book Group Monday
Festival Hub

THIS year I bought 10 tickets for my book group to attend “Book Group Monday” at the Henley Literary Festival.

We weren’t too sure what to expect, but the evening turned out to be really interesting and entertaining. We showed up at the Festival Hub in the pouring rain, hoping that the marquee didn’t leak — it didn’t! — and were pleased to find that it was actually well appointed and comfortable inside.

Book Group Monday consisted of a panel of three authors chatting with Cesca Major, who is a writer herself (author of The Last Night and The Silent Hours).

Cesca asked thought-provoking questions and gave each author time to answer and add snippets whenever they wanted to. The group engaged well with each other and all respected one another’s space and opinions. No one person dominated the conversation, it flowed well and Cesca facilitated a smooth running order.

One of the three authors was Mike Gayle, who has been a full-time writer for over 20 years. He sat sandwiched between the other women authors and noted how few men there were in the audience — literally four! — before talking about his latest book. He told us that he struggles to write about women’s clothing and always ask his wife if a certain skirt or blouse would be suitable for a character.

When asked how he writes, Mike said that he cannot “write all day”. He used to be a journalist and treats writing as a job, but also factors in “thinking time” and dog-walking time. He usually writes for about four to five hours a day.

Mike added that if you want to be a writer, then just write — chip away at a novel, little and often. But he also said that it’s important to keep on reading as well.

When Mike was asked about the changes that have taken place over the period of his career he made the valid point that years ago if you travelled by train everyone was reading a book, but nowadays if you go on the tube, everyone is just scrolling through their phones. Things have changed.

Erin Kelly was the next author, whose novel The Poison Tree our book group had coincidentally rad earlier this year.

She was very amusing and explained that she got her publishing deal in 2009, just before everyone got a Kindle.

Although she said that the Kindle has revolutionised reading, she also acknowledged the use of audiobooks which have “opened up books” to people who wouldn’t have been able to read them in the past (i.e., the partially sighted and non-book lovers).

Erin doesn’t plan her novels as such, but her plots come from a central scene and it goes from there. She says she takes a long time to actually write a book.

Erin’s latest, Stone Mothers, is set in a disused hospital where someone stumbles across abandoned patient records and the story then goes back in time.

Erin teaches a creative writing master’s and says that people should “never stop reading, it’s so important.” She firmly believes that we shouldn’t ask everyone what their “guilty pleasure” is, adding that reading shaming starts too early and we should be pleased that people are still reading.

Amanda Jennings was the third author on the panel, and talked about her new book, The Cliff House, which is set in 1986.

She mainly writes in the “crime writer genre”. Although she has tried to write romance and even erotica once (unsuccessfully), she says that she always comes back to crime.

When asked what advice she would give to debut authors, Amanda said she always tries to warn them to “manage their expectations”. She has learnt from experience that with every high comes a crushing low.

Amanda says she writes her novels in short bursts, as that’s how she writes best. She writes for 20 minutes and then goes and makes a cup of tea.

All three authors seemed self-deprecating and very honest about their book. They seemed to also respect each other, and the evening flowed along.

Interestingly, at the end, there was not a single question from the audience! We think Cesca had done such a good job that all the questions had been answered.

Next year we will choose one of their books to read in our book club.

Nicola Liddon-Horncastle

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