I am pleased to announce that I am now part of the affiliate programme for Blackwell’s!
Blackwell’s are one of my favourite bookshops and the Oxford branch (just up the road from me) is an institution. The downstairs section, know as the Norrington Room, is the largest single room selling books in the world (!) and is also often the venue for their amazing in store events. They also organise events that are held around the city. Two of the best I have been to were ‘An Evening With’ type things with two of my favourite authors – Sarah Waters and Donna Tartt. Both events were held in the beautiful Divinity School, which is next to the Bodleian LIbrary, and is part of Oxford University.
I’ve added the Blacwell’s logo to the right hand side of the site (just scroll down a bit) so you can click through and browse some lovely books! I’ll also add a link to buy books at Blackwell’s at the end of reviews, along with Wordery and Foyles.
There’s a chance you’re aware that Maggie O’Farrell has a new novel out – I may have mentioned it. She is doing a series of events promoting the books, one of which was a talk at Blackwell’s in Oxford with Sarah Franklin. I hadn’t organised myself to get hold of a ticket, but then my amazing friend Sam ended up having a spare ticket and invited me along – what luck!
I’ve seen Maggie O’Farrell talk about her work before, but it was still great to hear her in conversation about her new book. Sarah Franklin was a great interviewer and their talk was fascinating – I wish it had been recorded so I could share it with you here. Luckily the event was live-tweeted on the Tinder Press feed, so you can get a taste of the conversation there. Maggie talked about her inspirations for the novel, and how a few ideas for it slowly grew over several years, and finally came together to form This Must Be The Place. She is a charming speaker and it was a great relaxed evening; I even summoned the courage to ask a question!
The event started with Maggie reading from the opening of the novel, which was lovely – I always appreciate hearing an author read their work as it was meant to sound. And the evening ended with an informal signing – I got another first edition hardback of Maggie O’Farrell’s signed, which was great, and got to tell her how much I loved the book and the evening. A success!
Sarah Waters’ new novel, The Paying Guests, came out last week on 28th August, and of course it was amazing. I was very lucky to be sent an early copy, and also that I managed to nab a ticket to the event held last night (2nd Sept) in Oxford. Sarah Waters was in conversation with Viv Groskop at The Divinity School in the Bodleian Library. I saw Donna Tartt there in October (how could I ever forget THAT?) and it is such a lovely venue. It is not only beautiful, but atmospheric and really cool, being the first teaching room ever built at the University of Oxford (in the 1400s!). It looks like this:
And the event itself was just as lovely. I made notes like a nerd, and I’m actually glad I did as it’s helped me to remember all the things Sarah talked about. It was rather a lot really, and I can’t talk about it all here, but I will mention some of the absolute best things. Yes, in bullet points.
Sarah’s “kernel” moment when plotting was the question of what would happen if a wife’s affair was with a woman rather than a man. She had been looking at real life crimes of the early twentieth century that were caused by affairs, and she decided to mix things up. And you can’t have a Sarah Waters book without lesbians! (except for The Little Stranger – though someone there might have been a secret lesbian)
It was crucial that Frances and Lillian really love each other for the story to have depth and, I think, to veer away from sensationalism.
Her fondness for Frances, and the fact that she, in some ways, belongs to the feminism of the suffragette era – but she is also ahead of her time with her defiance and bravery. This is demonstrated very well through her differences with her mother, and also with Lillian in some ways.
Class is always a very good way of adding complexity to a historical setting. There were a lot of class shifts in the 1920s and it is a big issue in the novel. Frances was of the last generation of daughters that were expected to stay at home and help (Sarah talked about Vera Brittain giving up her degree to come home and help her parents with housework!), and Lillian is also very tied to her home despite being married.
The choice of setting. Sarah spoke about how her novels have grown out of each other, and that the 20s was a good halfway point between her Victorian novels and those set in the 1940s – this also meant that in some ways The Paying Guests has a past and a future in the Sarah Waters universe, which I really like.
Really, the novel is about what happens when ordinary lives are interrupted by passion. In my review I spoke about how the characters are ordinary people made extraordinary, so it was great to hear this! It’s something that Sarah Waters works with to great effect in a lot of her work (with passion, but also tragedy and drama).
I could waffle for hours about how brilliant Sarah Waters is. She is one of the most perceptive and intelligent writers I know, and is very down to earth and likeable. I could have listened to her for a lot longer.
A huge thank you to Blackwell’s and Virago, as well as Sarah Waters and Viv Groskop, for such a fantastic evening.