Yesterday, I went to my first online event at the Durham Book Festival! This is the third year in a row I’ve been to the John Murray Proof Party, and while it was a little sad having to attend online rather than in person, it was still a lovely event. (My report from last year is here.) We were all relieved to know that we still get copies of the three books discussed – they just get posted to us rather than handed out.
This year, the three books were:
- Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley
- The Rules of Revelation by Lisa McInerney
- The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin
No cover image is available for McInerney’s book yet.
I was SUPER excited – I loved Mozley’s debut, Elmet, and McInerney’s debut, The Glorious Heresies (even if I found the follow-up, The Blood Miracles, a little disappointing). I hadn’t heard of McLaughlin’s work before, but I was super excited about her as well once I found out she had also written a collection of short stories called Dinosaurs on Other Planets.
Clockwise from top left: the host, Grace; Lisa McInerney; Fiona Mozley; Danielle McLaughlin. I apologise to all concerned for this screenshot!
Mozley’s second novel, Hot Stew, focuses on the closure of an old brothel in Soho and the impact on the women who work there. The extract she read focused on the landlady – the daughter of an old Soho gangster – who is trying to force them out. Mozley spoke about how she doesn’t want to glamorise the sex industry, but how she wanted to present a group of women who are in a relatively good situation as they’re in control of their own work, and how the external threat of gentrification affects this. As you might expect, there was a lot of discussion about how different this all was from the rural Elmet, and whether Mozley found it difficult to write her second novel after the success of her first. She enormously impressed me by saying that ‘I started [Hot Stew] the day after I finished Elmet’ – apparently it was a book she’d always wanted to write, but promised herself that she’d finish Elmet first. While saying that this new novel is more lighthearted and joyful than Elmet, she also drew out some unexpected similarities between them – noting that at heart both novels are about a dispute over a piece of land. And although Hot Stew is set in modern, urban Soho, she said that she had the Middle Ages in mind when she was writing – Soho would have been grazing land and its roads follow the old paths of animal tracks.
McInerney’s third novel, The Rules of Revelation, is the third in the loose trilogy that started with The Glorious Heresies. She said that the books deal in turn with ‘sex, drugs and rock & roll‘, and so this book is concerned with an Irish band releasing a debut album, and the impact it has on her four protagonists. In a departure from her earlier writing, all four of her protagonists are female – she hesitated to refer to them all as ‘women’ as one is questioning her gender, though still using she/her pronouns. Two of the others, Maureen and Karine, will be familiar to those who have read her previous work: Maureen is a woman in her late sixties dealing with how Ireland is changing around her, and Karine is a young mother ‘who keeps failing at feminism – she’s just not very good at it.’ The final protagonist is Georgie, a retired sex worker. It sounds like one of the concerns of this novel might be how feminism speaks to working-class women and working-class non-binary people, which I love. McInerney also spoke so interestingly about Cork, which has been the setting of all three of her novels; she joked ‘I can write other settings!’ but also pointed out how Cork itself has changed since she published The Glorious Heresies in 2015, and how she has enjoyed charting the emergence of a ‘new glossy Instagram Cork’ against the background of massive social change across Ireland, such as the legalisation of gay marriage and abortion.
McLaughlin’s debut novel, The Art of Falling, is about a woman, Nessa, dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s affair while organising a retrospective art exhibition for the work of a famous Irish sculptor, Robert Locke. Unsurprisingly, these two threads start to intertwine in unexpected ways. McLaughlin, who has been a short story writer for years, said that she originally thought that this novel would be a short story as well, and had to figure out how to handle a bigger piece of work. She naturally gravitated towards writing strong relationships between women, such as that between Nessa and her teenage daughter, and said that as someone who suffers from social anxiety, one of the joys of being a writer is that you can play out a scene again and again on the page to work it out.
I’m looking forward to all of these novels, and also to the other events I’ve booked at the Durham Book Festival: a talk with Laura Bates, founder of Everyday Feminism, next Friday, and a Dialogue Books Proof Party next Sunday (yep I booked all the events with the free books). I’ll definitely report back on the latter, if not both!
Have you attended any virtual book festivals during lockdown?