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I have a confession to make. I’m a book group hussy. I’ve been a member of four and have published and presented papers on why they matter. So when I learned that Maggie O’Farrell would be talking about her latest novel at the Rooftop Book Club I knew I had to go.
Oh and then there’s the title. Not only is This Must Be the Place the name of a sublimely sanguine song about belonging (Talking Heads) it’s also a gorgeously bitter-sweet film (Sean Penn). Maggie O’Farrell’s eponymous novel had me hooked before you could even say ‘Place’.
We got hopelessly lost trying to find Carmelite House, but when we finally spun through the doors, we were greeted by charming young publicity lasses armed with trays of wine (always a good sign), and suddenly everything was fine. Happily we succumbed to the oft-scoffed ‘Chardonnay swilling’ book club cliché with a joie de vivre reserved only for mothers-out-without-young-children.
“We succumbed to the oft-scoffed ‘Chardonnay swilling’ book club cliché with a joie de vivre.”
As a rule of thumb I’m over totes. But the Rooftop Book Club ones are nicely designed and full of books (hardbacks even – and signed by the author!) and postcards (not the kind with no space to write on) and bookmarks and tiny little taster booklets of Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel. All this and a Q & A with two wonderful authors for a mere £10!
Georgina Moore and her book promo clique are sharp-dressers, all power suits and killer heels. And she knows what her (largely female) audience wants.
‘Welcome lovely bookish people’, she began. ‘Thank you for sharing the book love.’
And with that, we sat back and listened to Monica Wood introduce her new novel The One-in-a-Million Boy and Maggie O’Farrell wax lyrical about the boon of constraints for writers with reference to her latest novel, This Must Be the Place.
The most compelling stories, though, were the reflections on the writing process, both intimate and structural, that both writers shared, and which I’ve tried to distil below. In free verse.
What I tell my creative writing students is to juxtapose things that don’t quite go together
– for instance, a very old woman and a very young boy.
The story of your life never starts at the beginning.
Things percolate for a really long time and then they want to be born.
Most writers had a childhood loss.
Writers listen to what people aren’t saying.
The trick is, writing is an act of empathy.
It is difficult to know which story lends itself to which medium.
Playwriting is the most fun because there’s collaboration at the end of it.
A lot of books are reactions to their predecessors.
I wish I had a writing garret.
I became a better writer when I became a mother.
Getting published is hard work and very brutal.
The work you do happens away from the page.
I cut a lot less than I used to.
All books are written against impossible odds.
It’s like talking to an invisible ear.
Judging panels are arbitrary.
I’m slightly obsessed with tenses.
The idea that a subject area is gendered is bullshit.
I still never, ever use the phone unless I have to.
Rooftop Book Club works because it makes the writers and the readers feel special. All that and a view of the dirty great glittering river Thames and quaffing wine with my best friend. Heaven.