Show 025: November 2009

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News

A month of enormous busy-ness, lots of lovely events at Ilkley Literature Festival and Haworth Parsonage, where I was talking to Coky Gedriec and Peter Bowker, director and writer of latest adaptation of Wuthering Heights for ITV1 in front of a well-informed audience.

I’m writing three sonnets for Calderdale Council for National Holocaust Day in January 2010. It’s been a very challenging thing to do. There are only two official events one in London and one in Halifax. I will be reading it in Halifax next year

Book review

Dancing Backwards by Salley Vickers
Dancing Backwards by Salley Vickers, who you may know as the author of Miss Garnett’s Angel from about ten years ago. The story of Violet Hetherington who takes a trip on a an ocean cruiser across the Atlantic to meet up with an old friend. It’s a journey in space but also in time. This is a wonderful book, very delicately drawn, looking into love and guilt, and human relationships and I think it’s an absolute triumph.


Interview

Melissa Benn
Here follows an edited interview with Melissa Benn, daughter and sister of politicians, whose latest novel is One of Us, one of my favourite reads in September.

My first novel was called Public Lives, you might think on related themes, but a very different novel from One of Us. One of Us took most of my forties to put togther and write, because I was bringing up children and doing lots of other things. Perhaps I’m slightly slow on the novel writing front.

I’ve always felt I’ve had to write - there is something of a passion and a compulsion there. In this book I kept coming back to the characters and the themes. I would write some of it and it would change as I wrote it. Recently I’ve come to think that I’m discovering the kind of writer I am by the kind of writing I do.

I do have a whole other part of my life that is increasingly in recent years politically active. As a younger person writing was a way of defining myself separate to and as part of this powerful family. There’s probably something in my determination to write that was a need to have my own niche and space. For a long time it felt secret. The political world finds writing a bit of a namby pamby occupation

I had a lot of experience that I was aware of using. One of the sparks for the book came when I went to see Sophocles play Antigone and I was fascinated by that ; the clash of private values and the state. That story is definitely there in this book.

The phrase One of Us was made famous by Margaret Thatcher who said about one of the wetter members of her cabinet ,’Is he one of us?’ As I was writing the book, the phrase came to me; there comes a moment when you find the title for a book and that happened with this one. It’s like trying on clothes.

I think now the way I write is that I start with scraps of characters, I sketch their faces in books. I see people in the street. It’s a slightly obsessive process. With the main political character in the novel, I was particularly interested in looking at people like Tony Blair who get to the top politically.

I didn’t want the story to be didactic. I wanted it to be authentic. I loved all my characters at the beginning and I hoped they behaved in the way that I wanted them do, though the chief political character got away from me and I didn’t finally like him. But I think every major character a writer takes on dramatises part of their own person.

I’ve learned never to think what others think while you’re writing. It was a nerve wracking moment when I gave the book to my dad. I did feel worried and the same with my brothers, but I must say they came up trumps with their response to it. They were terrific.



Poem of the Month


This month's poem is 'Ask Me What I Remember' from my collection Coma Songs.