Novelist Andrea Goldsmith spoke with publisher and editor Aviva Tuffield (Affirm Press.)
First up, Andrea gave a great explanation of her recent novel The Memory Trap. She introduced the characters and told the audience something about them. Andrea is a skilled presenter, no, really, she goes beyond skill into gift territory. She clearly enjoys it and that shows. She is delightful, animated, clever and funny. And this is all good but most importantly, she connects with the audience, and connects deeply because it’s what she says about the human condition that resonates and gets the murmurs going, the nods, the almost-Hallelujahs.
Andrea talked about a central character Ramsay, and the way she described him was tantalising. He is brilliant at the piano, a genius, but not so good at life. She made us want to know his story; she vividly sketched him for us in just in a few sentences. After characters, Andrea introduced the elements of conflict, and unfolded just enough for us to again tantalise, and compel us to want to read.
She used the title often, and with confidence:
The Memory Trap is a novel of characterisations, it’s about music, about marriage and marriage-type relationships. It’s about memory… Memory made solid.
Andrea talked about memory fluently, and this was an area that caused a resonance with the audience. She touched on points of common experience, talked generally so that people could connect with the idea of one of the major themes of the book. She spoke with great authority but wasn’t bossy or preachy – I’ve been lucky enough to have Andrea as a teacher and she is very generous with her sharing of knowledge and writing ideas.
Then Andrea talked briefly about how the monuments got into the book, how she had that idea, and about some of the memorable monuments from around the world (memorable: good and memorable: not so good.)
On the question of whether characters in books need to be likeable, Andrea said ‘you absolutely don’t need to like them, you have to be interested in them. It’s the flaws and the frailties that are so interesting.’
More fascinating snippets were presented: mention of Mrs Monday, a woman who comes once a week to satisfy the musical genius Ramsay’s sexual needs; how music has failed Ramsay, but she didn’t say anything more than that. It was a taster, that was all.
Andrea read from The Memory Trap, a section at the end where Ramsay’s minder George has left him. It’s a part where Ramsay is less monster and more a person requiring sympathy. Andrea doesn’t give away what crisis has preceded other than to say ‘George has left’; no detail about the relationship between George and Ramsay or what might have happened. Another teaser.
Aviva asked about love. Andrea talked about different types of love, and about difficult loves. Obsessive love, which Andrea is fascinated by.
Obsessive love says much about the lover and almost nothing about the person being loved.
Andrea talked a little about how long it takes her to write her books (The Memory Trap is number 7.) She said it takes 3 years writing and 1 year in production. She has a very very low threshold for boredom. Her ideas first take shape in the characters, and the jobs she gives her characters are of great interest to her (she created the memorial consultancy position she gives one of the main characters in this recent book.)
Andrea writes mostly in the third person POV. She said it’s very powerful, close and intimate, but more flexible than the first person voice. She never knows her ending until she’s ‘right on top of it.’
A writer is also a reader
If I’m getting fed up with a character, then the reader will be too. It might mean you need to go back, flesh out or edit. Or it’s the wrong POV for that part of the story. For example, move the point of view to another character who might have the more interesting perspective.
A snippet that was very interesting to me was when Andrea said that the memorisation work that Ramsay does is very focused and ‘turns off the imagination’ so that when his music fails him, he has to find another rote activity to do, that helps him switch off. Andrea and Aviva both are poor sleepers. Andrea recites poetry in her head to turn off the imagination at night, which is what’s keeping her awake. This is a lovely idea, the whirring mind, still ticking over creatively when it’s meant to be calming down, switching off and quietening.
Her next book will be novel number 8 and it’s got Soviet Russia in it, three characters, one born in 1964 in Russia. Sounds great, I’m all about Russian things at the moment.
Some notes I made afterwards, because I was so impressed — again — with Andrea’s manner when she’s presenting. She wasn’t rushed, she was thorough, and was confident, as if she were not the author but a genuine and avid appreciator of the book herself. She introduced the characters, and something about each, including their quirk or stand-out character trait. She introduced conflict. She used the present tense, this had the effect of making it all very real, these characters exist in the now. And indeed, Andrea didn’t refer to them as characters, but used their names.
Next up: Eleanor Catton session, talking about The Luminaries with Susan Wyndham.