Review: New writer readings and conversation pieces, part 1
Taking place in the modernist splendour of the Ron Cooke Hub, the new writer readings and conversation pieces - my first taste of literary festivals - was an intimate event that was decidedly one to see. Though this particular day was sadly neglected by visitors, the small audience was ever-enthused for literary findings.
The day's talks were chaired by Philip Wynn-Jones, head of Portobello-Granta publishing. The first hour-long session starred, amongst others, Noo Saro-Wiwa - author of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria. This Travelogue captures the resilient, booming, chaotic nature of Nigerian life in an informative and amusing manner from the eyes of a young woman who has lived there herself and whose parents (both political activists objecting to the military regime) had an invested stake in the country.
Katharine Rundell, who wrote Girl Savage while she occupied her post as the youngest female fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, was then introduced and gave some information on her history as a British-born citizen of Zimbabwe and how the sharp, strong, concise, and funny adventure of her novel came into being.
For the final part of the first session, Chibundo Onuzo was given the floor. This young author gave some insight into her fiery heroine and unprivileged love-interest in The Spider King's Daughter, and how she began the process of writing a novel while she was at boarding school in Winchester - a world away from her Nigerian heritage and the subject of her honest and inspiring book.
After these introductions, there followed a delightful reading from each of the novelists. This was a chance to hear them as they were supposed to be heard - from the mouths of their creators.
The writers were then subject to engaging questions asked by Wynn-Jones and the audience. Some examples are listed below:
Is it necessary to be confident to be so young and seek to have a novel published?
Rundell - I have met many authors who have said they had to write, but very few who meant it. I can understand if they meant they wanted it more than sleep or food, but I really just wrote to see if I could finish, so confidence never really came into it. I honestly never thought it would be published. I was just very lucky - which now sounds very arrogant, but it's true.
Did you have a reader in mind when you were writing your book?
Saro-Wiwa - I suppose I was thinking about the diaspora of Nigerian people like me, not so I could represent them, but to really give eyes to the people that hadn't seen the Africa I knew. There is so much about Nigeria that is missing from the public view, so many facets, and I really wanted to explore these areas.
I'm really interested in a composition of place in writing. How did you write your novel? Were you in your respective countries and wrote there with the scenery around you, or did you have to re-create it in your mind?
Onuzo - I mostly wrote from my boarding room in Winchester, but I turned my heating right up so it was as hot as Nigeria. Most of my work was simulated, but I wanted people to say, 'yes, I recognise that Lagos'.
Is literature influential in politics in Nigeria?
Saro-Wiwa - I never set out to talk about politics in my book, but it is so much a part of society in Nigeria that you kind of end up doing so, even when you don't mean to.
What do you think your futures hold? Will you continue to be influenced by your countries?
Onuzo - Yes. I study history, so maybe I would like to write something on Nigeria's past.
There are so many creative writing courses out there. Have you taken any?
Rundell - I teach children in creative writing, but I've never taken any lessons. My publisher once told me that you should only take criticism from someone with an investment in the production of the book, and while people in writing groups can say they've read your manuscript, they probably only did so over coffee, so I think I would be resistant to their criticism.
The York Festival of Ideas continues around the city and university campus until June 30th.