Zoe Strachan & Benjamin Wood – Edinburgh International Book Festival 2012

I outlined my love of the Edinburgh International Book Festival back here – and a love of queer literature is something which adds to that. Zoe Strachan’s debut novel, Negative Space, has long been a much loved paperback on my bookshelf, and when I got the opportunity to go and see Zoe Strachan, along with debut novelist Benjamin Wood at the Book Festival, I really couldn’t turn it down.

Strachan’s most recent novel, Ever Fallen In Love, is a story of unrequited love, unbalanced relationships and how not to fit in, with a protagonist who just happens to be gay. I adored hearing about how and why Strachan wrote this novel especially as she admitted the story is set in ‘a place much like St Andrews’ – the university town I graduated from two years ago. There are similarities in this novel to the tale I one day hope to write – the impact of meeting someone mesmerising at an impressionable age, symbiotic relationships, sexuality and confusion, class, dependency and stories set in a past / present, first / third person story narratives.

Benjamin Wood’s novel was similarly intriguing – set in another University town – Cambridge – it explores the relationship between relationships, self-discovery and music. With a prelude which sets the scene for the whole novel (and which Wood read wonderfully, in its full glory) – this is pretty certain to be downloaded onto my Kindle at some point soon.

So what about the event? Zoe Strachan came across as hugely passionate and likeable, especially when asked questions about her writing processes (she admitted that she’s love to be able to write in a more linear fashion, and that this novel came into being via a dream about the two male leads). Her comments about how all writing cannot help but be autobiographical (because no writer can suspend their own experiences when writing) really struck a chord with me – and Wood’s comment about knowing authors who will purposely put themselves in new situations, just so they can write about it made me chuckle too – I certainly know at least one wannabe novel-writing who does this!

Personally, I find novels which are based around a moment in time to be hugely appealing – think On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan or Ali Smith’s Like – they’re examples of what I call climactic novels; stories which are based entirely around one moment, on thing which changed the course of a life, a story. I often think about life-changing moments – the ones which I describe as ‘the moment before the moment you fall off of a cliff’; the fact that most of the time we have no idea when our life is about to change, but the distance and perspective of a novel allows us to see the before and after of these moments – that excites me. It seems that both of these novels have elements of this kind of central point, and that’s one of the things I enjoyed most about this session; finding out about how other people see this kind of novel.

These are two stories about self-discovery, moments which change lives and not quite fitting in; hearing Zoe Strachan and Benjamin Wood talk about their books was a brilliant experience. If you like this kind of novel, or have read one of Strachan’s previous books, I’d really recommend buying a copy of Zoe Strachan’s Ever Fallen In Love and Benjamin Woods’ The Bellwether Revivals.

Finally, I got Zoe to sign my much-loved copy of Negative Space after the event, and she was lovely and warm and friendly, whilst I was a little overwhelmed and shy; I am entertained that I have never been tongue-tied in front of a client, band, singer or TV star, and yet authors turn me into a nervous wreck!

I received tickets (and an accredited press pass) for the Edinburgh International Book Festival from Clicket, who run a wonderful service listing all the events going on in Edinburgh – take a look at the Clicket website for more information.


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