Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Edinburgh Book Festival - Author Event - Lucy Wood and Sarah Hall

As our Edinburgh holiday dates are generally driven by other factors rather than around the Book Festival itself, it's always a bit hit and miss which authors will be appearing while I'm actually there, so I was delighted to realise that Lucy Wood, author of Diving Belles and Weathering, would be there during the few days I was. Weathering was her debut novel - a story of home, belonging, the not-always-easy relationships between mothers and daughters, and the thin divide between life and death, which I absolutely loved!  For her event she was paired with Sarah Hall, whose latest novel The Wolf Border also deals with a young woman, Rachel Caine, returning home - and introducing wolves back into the Lake District. The title comes from a Finnish expression describing the 'border' between urbanised, human habitation and the wilderness that surrounds it.

After a short chat introducing their novels, the authors read a short section from their work; Lucy Wood's an almost poetic piece as the ashes of grandmother Pearl are sprinkled on the river and she finds herself mixing with the water and mud - still partly herself, and partly a ghost - while Sarah Hall's was a more prosaic description of the transportation of the wolves to their new Cumbrian home - a journey you could follow on a map if (like me) you wanted to, but filled with tension as Rachel worries about all the things that could go wrong along the way, and what she'll find returning home after so many years away. Although the themes are similar in many ways, the treatment of them and the writing style seemed very different. Weathering is set in an anonymous place, possibly the moors of South-West England (though for me there was a northern "Yorkshire" feel to it), whereas Wolf Border is set more firmly in the real world, both geographically and politically - though the Annerdale estate doesn't actually exist, and the Scottish referendum swung the other way.

One of the aspects of Weathering that I adored was the poetic style, a little Virginia Woolf stream of consciousness in many ways, and the fluid ambiguous qualities of the storyline. It's impossible to pin down exactly what Pearl is - a ghost, a figment of her grand-daughter's imagination, or an accumulation of her daughter's memories - but who really needs to?  I was pleased to discover that something which struck me when reading it, the play on "weathering'  - either worn away by or proudly withstanding the elements - was intended by the author, not just something I made up!

Just a quick word for once about the venue - not the standard plain white marquee style of most the Edinburgh Book Festival's 'rooms' but the multicoloured Spiegeltent more reminiscent of a circus big-top. I've been in here before, for coffee during the day and the Jura Unbound events in the evening but not to a 'book' event. The seating was grouped informally round tables which as I'd gone along alone, I found more conducive to chatting with my neighbour while waiting for the event to start.

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