Bloomsbury New Writers’ Evening

Bloomsbury New Writers’ Evening

Event: Bloomsbury New Writers’ Evening 

Venue: Foyles 

Report by Eleanor Baggley

Foyles have long been the champions of new voices and literary talent and this event introduced three extraordinary new writers to the scene.

The evening focused on three writers and their novels, newly released from Bloomsbury, and all debuts: Ann Morgan’s Beside Myself, Paul M.M. Cooper’s River of Ink and Holly Müller’s My Own Dear Brother. Enthusiastically chaired by Bloomsbury’s Alexa Von Hirschberg, the evening’s conversation moved from a discussion of the novels and the inspiration behind them, to a fascinating dialogue focusing on a writer’s responsibility and the line between truth and fantasy.

Ann Morgan kicked of proceedings with a reading from her novel, Beside Myself. Morgan is perhaps the most animated reader I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and had me hooked from the small extract she shared. Although this is her first novel, Morgan’s first published work was Reading the World, inspired by her successful blog recording her challenge to read a book from every country on Earth.

Paul Cooper introduced his novel, River of Ink, with a reading and a quick word about his inspirations – Sri Lanka and Thomas Wyatt’s poetry. Cooper lived in Sri Lanka after landing on the idea for the novel, immersing himself in the culture, and learning to speak the local languages before settling down to write.

Holly Muller

Muller interviewed people who lived through the war.

Holly Müller talked in detail about the journey that led to the publication of her novel, My Own Dear Brother, and its background. Set in Nazi occupied Austria during World War Two, this novel was in part inspired by Müller’s Grandfather and is therefore very relevant to her family history. Müller spent time living in Vienna whilst researching and writing the book and she interviewed people who had lived through the war, whether as a Nazi supporter or not. She shared some lovely anecdotes with the audience about people she interviewed and I am interested in reading the novel to see these stories come to life.

Truth and fantasy

All three writers talked about having the spark of an idea before undertaking any research. This does not mean, however, that the novels are not meticulously researched. Morgan, who’s novel explored mental health, did a lot of reading around the subject including memoirs written by people who have experienced mental health issues.

This discussion about research and inspiration led on to a question about a writer’s responsibility and specifically how blurred the line between truth and fantasy can be. They all agreed upon one crucial point: they are fiction writers first and foremost and although they are weaving in the truth, they still have that license to invent.

Paul M. M. Cooper

Sri Lanka and Thomas Wyatt inspired Cooper’s novel.

Arguably Cooper felt this pressure the least out of the three as the period he is writing about in Sri Lankan history is nothing but a blank space due to the tyranny of the king who is central to his story and the period in history. Müller on the other hand felt this sense of responsibility much more heavily as she is essentially entering into an existing conversation. World War Two and the Nazi regime has been the subject of many works of fiction and non-fiction so, unlike Cooper who is essentially writing in a vacuum, Muller had a fear of doing the subject an injustice. Cooper did make reference though to the ‘pedantic historical scholar’ perched on the shoulders of writers of historical fiction – laughs and murmurs of agreement rippled through the room at this.

The panel had a wonderfully lively dynamic, continuously bouncing ideas off one another and asking questions throughout. Their interest in one another’s work certainly rubbed off on the audience and came across in a number of insightful questions towards the end. Ultimately it was a fascinating evening hearing more about three exciting debut novels and I am not sure many people left Foyles without one, two or even all three books.

Report by Eleanor Baggley

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