As part of my relaxing reading weekend on Saturday afternoon I went along to a West Midlands Readers’ Network event entitled The Shock of Spring. The Readers’ Network stages these twice a year and the ones to which I’ve been have all followed the same format, probably because it’s one that works. The Network brings together a panel of four authors who, for the first half an hour, talk about the reading that has shaped them or which is engrossing them now. This is followed by two of the authors talking about their writing and reading a selection from their latest work. After each section there is an opportunity for questions from the floor. At this point we break for tea and cake. It is understood by all that the tea, and most especially the cake, is an absolutely essential part of the proceedings. After tea, the remaining two authors talk about their work and then there is time for book buying and signing before we all go home sated both spiritually and physically.
The authors featured in The Shock of Spring were Helen Cross, Sabine Durrant, Chris McCabe and Nathan Filer and I have to be honest and say that I hadn’t heard of any of them. However, that being said, good book talk isn’t dependent on famous names and once any group of readers get together it isn’t long before the conversation gets going and then only stops when said group gets thrown out because they’ve outstayed their welcome or because another group has booked the hall.
One good thing about encountering hitherto unknown writers is that very often you discover books that you really do want to read and in the case of Sabine Durrant and Nathan Filer this was most definitely the case. Durrant had a new novel, Under Your Skin, published in April and Filer’s first book, The Shock of the Fall had been published just two days prior to the meeting.
Durrant’s novel is a thriller which begins with a woman who apparently has it all finding a body while she is out running and then becoming the chief suspect in the murder enquiry. I really liked Durrant’s style and the first chapter definitely had me wanting to read more, so that’s gone on the wish list for the next time I can have a weekend’s indulgent reading.
Filer’s book appears to be very different. It’s about a young man’s descent into madness, which must make it sound like a really depressing read. But that isn’t the case. The author was quick to acknowledge his debt to Mark Haddon and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the narrative voice has the same quirky kind of tone. Certainly, we were all smiling a great deal as he read his first chapter to us. I’m already seeing very good reviews beginning to appear and this is a book that has gone straight onto my ‘read as soon as possible’ pile. If it develops as I think it will then I suspect it will also be going onto a lot of reading group lists.
As I said, when you put a group of readers together the conversation goes on forever, ranging far and wide, but always centred on books. One of the things we found ourselves discussing during the course of the afternoon was whether or not the majority of modern novels are written with a forthcoming film script in view. It was interesting that a few neat side-steps were taken meaning that none of the participating authors either denied or confirmed that this might be true of their books. However, thinking about it afterwards, I did wonder if this was really such a new phenomenon. Oh, writers from previous centuries might not have had the cinema in view, but writing with an eye to the narrative form most likely to guarantee the widest possible audience is nothing groundbreaking at all. Isn’t this one of the reasons that Dickens and his contemporaries wrote in serial form? And you could even argue that the ‘authors’ of oral narratives structured them in such as a way as to make them easy to remember and therefore to be passed on from audience to audience, widening the participating circle not only geographically but also temporally. Perhaps it is in the creative artist’s nature to seek out a form that will communicate as extensively as possible. What do you think?