Saturday, 19 November 2011

Poets and Writers/Being a mum

It's beyond my worst nightmare that one of my children should become seriously ill. Which makes an essay I just read in the current issue of Poets and Writers magazine all the more moving and inspirational. Like many creative mums, Lisa Jennifer Selzman planned to write during the day once her kids had both started at school - and she did. But when her daughter Steffie became seriously ill, Lisa's writing ground to a halt.

"I stopped writing because I didn't see the point," writes Lisa.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Marriage Plot/A literary crush

It takes a lot to get me out of the nest these autumn nights, but the promise of seeing Jeff Eugenides last Sunday sent me fluttering across town. He is my literary crush.

So there I was in the Whitworth Art Gallery, with these huge floor to ceiling windows looking out over a dark park (we must have been quite a spectacle to any creatures sheltering out there) while Jeff sat on a platform in front. Pitter patter, be still my beating heart. He was with  DJ Dave Haslam, who regularly interviews big name writers.

Jeff was plugging his new novel, The Marriage Plot, but took questions about his other two, The Virgin Suicides (made into eponymous film by Sofia Coppola) and Middlesex, which won a Pulitzer.

Why do I like Eugenides so much?

1) He takes his time. One novel every six years or so. That's encouraging.

2) He sets himself seemingly impossible challenges, and carries them off. The first novel he wrote in the first person plural - ie told by a collective narrator. This has hardly ever been done before because it's extremely hard to do well. He also summarised the entire plot in the first paragraph which he claimed he used as a first time novelist's map as he wrote. Just in case anyone thought that degree of difficulty was a one-off, for his second novel he chose an intersex protagonist. And won a Pulitzer for his pains.

3) He prefers novel writing to short story writing (! and see this blog post), because he told us, he likes to have the space to introduce and explore  a whole series of ideas.

4) He was modest and answered all questions thoughtfully, as if he'd never been asked them before. That's courteousy.

I asked him what constraints he set himself before starting to write The Marriage Plot - he said "Tightly dramatized, deep characterisation, " were what he was going for. He read a long extract and it reminded me of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. A good sign.

I clutched my signed copy all the way home and vowed not to leave my sofa until I'd finished it.

Want more?  Here's Zoe Lambert's blog piece about the evening and also Katie Popperwell's interview with Eugenides for the Creative Times.