Thursday, 20 March 2014

Natural, convincing, gripping Alison Taft

Lily Appleyard in Paris – Alison Taft
Wednesday 19 March - Headingley Library

                                                  Photo: Richard Wilcocks
Alison talked about her relationship with publishers – she works successfully with a ‘we really do know what people like’ bunch who are apparently after ‘gritty northern stories’ – and her own father. The father bit was more interesting than the publisher bit. She outlined how her own personal experiences have influenced her writing, which is not that surprising, because vast numbers of poets and novelists, famous, infamous and unknown, have been influenced likewise, but she told her side of things so well, so naturally and convincingly, that the audience was gripped. Alison’s central protagonist, Lily Appleyard, has a father who has disappeared from her life and who refuses to meet her in Our Father, Who Art Out There… Somewhere, and she lives in Accrington. Lily has a fantasy that he will turn up one day. As the blurb on the back of the book says: when Lily’s mother dies and Lily finds her father alive and well but with no intention of ever meeting her, she has a decision to make. Should she forget about him? Or does she have a right to know her own father? Doesn’t he owe her at least one meeting?

Alison, who is originally from Burnley, told us that this almost but not exactly described a part of her own life. She was very definitely using what she knew, and it had crossed her mind that she was taking some kind of revenge in her writing.  Our Father is set in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall was breached, when Alison was living in Germany, though there’s not much about that. The novel, set in Headingley and with plenty of use of the present tense, has a strong sense of immediacy as well as a strong feel of the Zeitgeist. The focus moved from Our Father to its sequel, Shallow Be Thy Grave in which Lily has to navigate Paris while dealing with her dysfunctional family. We heard about where the murder should go in an effective crime novel, which is seven pages in, according to one recommended formula. Alison has her doubts about this kind of thing: she mentioned the tension created between author and publisher when advice is given and not taken. She has been told that there should be a new dramatic incident every few pages, or that one of her male characters was ‘an idealized man’, or that a section was too long, and she has made a few adjustments and is sometimes grateful when something is pointed out, for example a mistranslation of a Latin motto.

She particularly admires Lee Child, an author whose books tend to come with ‘noir’ on the cover. In response to the obvious follow-up question, Alison said that her books had been described as ‘chick noir’ as opposed to straight ‘chick lit’, and this caused her to smile, because it does sound like an in-joke. We smiled too. She is fascinated by plenty of the output of Jo Nesbø as well, but finds some aspects of his work upsetting, especially the graphic descriptions of murder scenes. Nesbø  is one of a number of well-known writers given the task of rewriting stories from Shakespeare. He is dealing with Macbeth. Agatha Christie was mentioned as well, but she is a given.

In the audience was a delegation from a student book group at Leeds University, who had obviously heard about the event but who were unaware that it was part of the LitFest. We hope to see you again soon, now that you know. Also in the audience were a couple of Alison’s lecturers from quite a while ago, and she was just a little worried that they might have thought that a boring lecturer in one of her novels could be perceived as one of them. Perish the thought! If the cap fitted, neither of them showed they were wearing it.

Audience comments:

Interesting insight to the background of the books

It was really enjoyable!

Great. Well-structured. Interviewer had good questions and reading/Q & As were well-timed within the evening.

Insight into driving force behind writing process, interesting to hear about process of feedback from agents, publishers, editors.

Brilliant. Loved it.

Great to showcase local talent and to inspire other budding local writers.

Enjoyed hearing how author’s background fed into her books. Very lively and personable author, willing to give of herself.

I don’t know much about the books and haven’t read them yet but it sounds interesting and makes me think I must have lived a very sheltered life a lot more than I thought. I think I should read more female erotica stuff because it needs to stick into my head for me to accept it as a normal part of life and therefore engage in the world appropriately.

Really insightful and interesting. We had read the books in our book club (thanks to Headingley Library for lending them to us) so was great to find out the background behind her writing.

I’ve always thought that books lead to a different world, but never quite found the door. Listening to Mrs/Ms A Taft (since I don’t know if she’s married) I kind of saw that door. I won’t say I hope you do more of these author sessions, because you will either way.

Interesting to get an insight into the author’s life/background. Seemed personal.

Greast to hear from a local author! Also very interesting to hear about the writing process. Never heard a writer speak before.

Very interesting session with an excerpt from her second book, and questions and answers revealing her motivation in writing.
As someone who has never thought of writing a novel, I found Alison’s account of her experiences fascinating. I hope I enjoy the novel.

It’s such a successful format to have the compere ask a series of prompting questions to get the author to open up about their work’s background. Too many authors read too many chunks out of their books. Alison is such an open, honest and entertaining speaker, which comes across in her books.

Very interesting open evening. Good tips on crime writing which is what I’m after.

Really liked the structure of the night with the range of questions posed by the library representative.

Very engaging and well-structured.

Interesting insight into an author’s work and life.

Liked the Q & A format and the chance to ask our own questions.

Very enjoyable event. Good questions. Well structured.

No comments:

Post a Comment