MEG WOLITZER TALKS TO JANE SULLIVAN, Saturday 23 August
Sullivan introduced Wolitzer, an author whose book The Interestings has been on my list for a long time, saying she’s written seven novels, and is admired and enjoyed in equal measure. Wolitzer grew up with a mother who wrote, and still writes in her eighties, her last book being published a couple of years ago. Wolitzer senior sounds fantastic, saying things like:
The world will whittle your daughter down, so a mother never should
Wolitzer recounted being in school when her mother began publishing, and remembered one of the early stories appearing in a magazine in 1966 entitled ‘A Woman Goes Mad in the Supermarket’. It was, Wolitzer admitted, a book about ‘domestic rage.’
Ambivalence is what fiction is about
Writing is not a horse race, so when thinking about success, it’s about working out when you feel okay about yourself. The idea of success is like an engine inside of some people.
The Interestings, while set partly at summer camp, is not about summer camp. Rather it is about the moments in your life when you feel most yourself. It’s about that feeling.
Wolitzer talked about covers, and how they matter. That they say something to the reader, making us think things before we even open the book. Covers with faces or back of women’s heads, ‘dreamy women floating in water’ she cited, in the context of ‘not wanting to scare off one gender.’ (The Interestings, and she is happy about this, is a ‘big typeface book.’)
Wolitzer loves ‘big novels’. She tells her students a book is like a Jenga stand. If you pull out a bit does it still stand? Anna Karenina, with the agrarian section, would it have worked if that was taken out? Of course, she said, but it’s better for being in there.
Her first writing teacher was John Irving. Garp had just come out, she doesn’t remember a thing he said but remembers the energy he had for his work.
Question from the AUD – Why don’t more women write fiction? Wolitzer said men and women traditionally have been used to going to male voices for authority. We’re not used to going to female voices, and for a long time ‘men made the stories of the world,’ she said.
You want something that seems to speak the truth… especially after 9-11, living in NYC, people seem to want the truth… what makes good fiction? what makes the hairs stand up on the back of the neck? Felt truth – you feel it could happen.
JOAN LONDON TALKS TO JANE SULLIVAN Wednesday night, 27 August
The idea of Gilgamesh (published in 2001) came to London in a dream. In the dream she was looking for a country, travelling, and the word GILGAMESH was written. She had heard of it, but didn’t know what it meant (she’d seen it on the back of a Michael Ondaatje book. After the dream she asked a man about what could be the country she’d been looking for. All she could tell him was the country was dark, mysterious and emerging from mountains, somewhere in Europe. ‘It’s Armenia,’ he said. So she researched the snowy mysterious peaks of Armenia. When she finished the manuscript, she put it in a drawer, thinking she’d failed.
I just thought it was rubbish, romantic nonsense… I’ll go back to short stories now
Drusilla Modjeska came to dinner and London’s husband told her about the MS in the drawer. ‘Show it to me!’ said Modjeska.
London said she’ admires ‘hundreds of writers’, the Russians, ‘all the famous ones’ but who influenced her the most? Alice Munro with her ‘very honest’ writing, she’s ‘really a giant in her own way’ and Penelope Fitzgerald, a very different writer to Munro, whose strength is ‘in her reticence; what she doesn’t say.’
The Golden Age is London’s new novel. It’s set in a ’50s nostalgic ‘paradise’ Western Australia, with sun and space, xenophobia, an imminent Queen’s visit, and polio. It’s got a love story and a wonderful-sounding matron/nurse character, and I can’t wait to read it.
ALISSA NUTTING & JESSIE COLE