Chaired by the Crabbitest of them all, Edinburgh’s own Nicola Morgan, there was no way we were going to miss Sally Gardner and Celia Rees, who weren’t bad either.
Only joking. You don’t get much better than these two, who have long been on my top reading list. Both have written a number of historical novels over the last few years, only to go more modern with their latest books. Celia totally up-to-date with her soldier home from Afghanistan, and Sally visiting WWII.
I know this was Monday, but we have had a backlog at the temporary Bookwitch Towers offices. This is very much last, but not least. For a Monday morning, there were lots of people there. I like it when people come to book events all week long.
Nicola divided the event up into halves, with Sally – who claims not to be good at plotting – going first. She told us about people who refuse to die, and new people who turn up uninvited. She writes a chapter at a time, finishing one, before going on, joining them up like a necklace.
Sally’s first attempts at fiction featured ‘bunny rabbits doing amazing things’ a very long time ago. Working in the theatre helped her to see, and she now thinks it’s wonderful to actually be paid to make up stories.
She read one of my own personal favourite chapters in The Double Shadow, where Amaryllis gets dead drunk. Apologising to Celia for keeping her waiting, Sally added the first, very short, chapter from her new book, Maggot Moon, which will be out at the end of August. It really was short, too.
Chair Nicola remarked about Celia that they have a lot in common, but said they’d compare notes later, in private.
Celia said she used to write contemporary novels in the 1990s, when she had a teenage daughter at home to check facts with. She wrote This Is Not Forgiveness to see if she still could, despite her daughter’s ‘betrayal’ of growing up and moving away. (I’d say she still can.)
Unusually, Celia begins at the end. It’s also what she read to us, and despite knowing the book, it still sent shivers down my back. We need to realise we are living (tomorrow’s) history today. We don’t see it, but we are. Celia didn’t start last year’s riots, but writing while they took place, she needed to edit and change what went into her novel. It was great, and she enjoyed it.
The film Jules et Jim was the inspiration for the book, and Caro, the main female character decided herself what she was going to be like. Unconventional, interested in radical politics. It was impossible not to have each of the three main characters tell the story from their own point of view.
Celia doesn’t write every day. Sometimes she stops for a while, to think. And when stuck, she likes to go for walks, and she has memories from several books along her usual route; sort of a who did what where.
Sally takes her dog for walks in the churchyard. The dog is her excuse to stop every now and then to peer at gravestones for characters’ names, and to talk to herself. The phone can be a help, too. But if the dog’s not keen she takes a bath instead. Nicola says she irons, while Celia pointed out she does not iron.
Modern plots are easier, according to Celia. And Sally reckons she takes two years to do historical research for a book. So clearly, writing about now saves time. On the other hand, if you want dysfunctional, what can be better than the French Revolution?
And I am not leaving you with the story about Rupert Bear. (I think people got rather drunk…)