Maggie O’Farrell Fever: The Heatwave Is Here!

This week sees the publication of the first book from Tinder Press, which is very exciting in itself; what’s even more exciting (I know) is the fact that it is the new novel by the much-loved Maggie O’Farrell. Instructions for a Heatwave is her sixth novel and the first of hers that I have read, although the interest and enthusiasm exhibited by dedicated fans for her novel The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox has got me reading that one now too. Personally I loved HeatwaveI reviewed it before Christmas and had to fight to stop myself gushing about how much I loved it.

In 1976 a heatwave struck Britain, halting life in its tracks and making people behave strangely. Robert Riordan goes out to buy the paper one morning and does not come back. His disappearance prompts his three estranged, grown up children to come home to their mother Gretta (a wonderfully drawn character that Maggie describes as ‘tragi-comic’), and their complicated and emotional relationships are reexamined in the light of their father’s mysterious disappearance. The three children, Michael Francis, Monica and Aoife are each given their own chapters and are depicted with enough depth of feeling as to almost make the reader feel as if they are real people.

To celebrate the publication of Instructions for a Heatwave, the amazing team at Tinder Press organised a host of events. On Tuesday 26th, excited fans (including me of course!) gathered at Waterstones Piccadilly to hear Maggie in conversation with The Observer’s Elizabeth Day, herself an admittedly huge fan of Maggie’s work. I already had a proof of the novel but I bought myself a lovely big hardback for Maggie to sign; it is a beautiful book, inside and out.

Gorgeous hardback!
Gorgeous hardback!

Maggie read beautifully from the book, and then sat down to a Q&A session with Elizabeth Day, taking questions from the audience as well. I’m always saying how interesting it is to hear an author talk about a book that you loved, and this occasion was no exception. To hear an author read their own work aloud is also fantastic, as you hear how it is ‘meant’ to sound, how it was first conceived of. Maggie has a lovely speaking voice and she read clearly and with great character, entertaining the audience and bringing this fantastic book and its characters to life.

Maggie couldn't help but laugh with the audience at the subtle humour in her novel
Maggie couldn’t help but laugh with the audience at the subtle humour in her novel

Elizabeth Day was a wonderful host and, having met Maggie before, created a lovely relaxed atmosphere in which discussion came easily. The audience was enraptured. When asked about feminism and gender issues, both in the novel and in real life, Maggie spoke of how feminism is ‘common sense’ to her and that she kept the radical feminist movement of the 1970s in mind when she wrote the character of Claire, Michael Francis’ wife, in the sense that Claire may have heard about these issues and was probably thinking about them when dealing with her troubled marriage and trying to create a place for herself in the world.

I was rather pleased by Maggie’s answer when Elizabeth Day asked her what she thought about being pigeonholed as a writer of ‘women’s fiction’ that was only about domestic life; Maggie argued that all life is really about family, as they are a crucial influence on us throughout our lives. In her research for Heatwave she read many books about families, and even found herself reading Hamlet – as she pointed out, that too is a story about a family.

Then came the inevitable discussion about the character of Aoife, the youngest sibling. She lives far away from the rest of her family in New York, and her life is something of a mystery to them. Her biggest secret is that she is not able to read, something she keeps from every single person in her life. To the reader it soon becomes clear that Aoife has dyslexia, as she describes how letters seem to move and change in front of her eyes. But of course Aoife lives in a world that does not yet recognise her condition, and she feels there must be something wrong with her. Her predicament creates, Maggie said, an interesting relationship between Aoife and the reader, as we know she is dyslexic but she does not. The reader is also the only one to share Aoife’s secret and this creates a deep sense of sympathy with her. To me she was the most real,  the most engaging, the most likeable. When asked why she chose to give Aoife dyslexia, Maggie’s answer was twofold: her son was diagnosed with dyslexia while she was writing the novel; and also that because Aoife is the youngest she felt that she needed some kind of curse or burden, like the youngest children often do in fairytales. This added, for me, an extra spark to Aoife’s character, and further marked her out as special in some way.

Maggie O'Farrell in conversation with Elizabeth Day
Maggie O’Farrell in conversation with Elizabeth Day

The next night it was the official launch party for Instructions for a Heatwave. After a long day at work I was ready to collapse on the sofa, but made my way over to a townhouse on Fitzroy Square for what turned out to be a really great evening. In two high-ceilinged green rooms, publishing bods, as well as authors, journalists, bloggers, and members of Maggie’s family (including her three adorable children) milled around and chatted, drinking champagne and white wine and eating yummy little canapes that were presented on a variety of impractically shaped platters (one was like a giant ruler, another was like a flight of stairs…). Having met Headline publicist extraordinaire Georgina Moore at the Waterstones event, I went over and said hello, and was introduced to two fellow bloggers, both called Amanda, from book blog One More Page and fashion and lifestyle blog The Women’s Room. It is always great to meet fellow bloggers and hear their perspectives on the book in question. The Women’s Room is more of a fashion blog but Amanda was really enthusiastic about Heatwave and very eager to hear more about book blogging, and I was happy to pass on my knowledge.

Mary-Anne Harrington, Tinder Press editor, congratulates Maggie
Mary-Anne Harrington, Tinder Press editor, congratulates Maggie

Mary-Anne Harrington from Tinder Press made a great little speech about Maggie and her work, and congratulated both the author and the publishing team for all their hard work. Maggie was then persuaded to come up and say a few words, and she was very gracious in accepting praise and very grateful that we had all turned out for the event. Then it was time for a splash more wine, and lots more mingling. I was lucky enough to chat to the lady of the hour, as well as Georgina and Sam Eades from Tinder Press, and Emily from editorial at Headline. Everyone was so welcoming and happy to be there, and the party had a great feel to it and plenty of chatter that I’m sure could be heard outside. Well done Tinder for organising such a great event!

Maggie O'Farrell thanks everyone for their support and for coming to the event
Maggie O’Farrell thanks everyone for their support and for coming to the event

I loved reading Instructions for a Heatwave, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the press events this week. Meeting Maggie and the amazing team at Tinder Press has been a joy, and has added an extra layer of appreciation for the work they do. I cannot wait for the Tinder Press launch party, to which most of the authors will be coming (amazing!!), and for the individual events to promote each title. Congratulations to Tinder and Maggie O’Farrell for a job well done.

Thanks Maggie!
Thanks Maggie!
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