A great evening on Monday - a reading at the University by Michele Roberts, which was of course guaranteed to bring people from as far away as Liverpool and Chester, and so I met some old friends I hadn't seen in a while. The reading itself and the Q & A afterwards were engrossing, and as people said afterwards, inspiring: Michele Roberts is wonderfully open and unassuming and engaging. Although known as a novelist, she was reading from her recent memoir in which she looks back on her time in seventies London as a struggling new writer.
Interesting to me, with my obsession with the subject, was the audience discussion with Michele about the differences between memoirs and novels. Asked why she had chosen this time to write a memoir, she laughed and said with typical openness that her publisher (presumably responding to the current appetite for memoirs) had suggested it. Then someone in the audience identified herself as a teacher of memoir and 'life writing' and said that she always told her students that (as I'm always saying) a memoir is as much of a construct as a novel, and asked Michele whether she had found that to be true. Michele said that she had, but that the linear shape of the memoir had made for easier construction. However, a further question prompted her to say that she had originally conceived of the book as structurally more complex, but that the commissioning publisher had wanted something more linear (and presumably more marketable). Asked if this had compromised her truth, she said that, actually, yes it had: she had wanted very much for the book to be about the difference between her two personae: that of the young woman she was in the seventies and the woman she is now, but that the linear form hadn't been as capable of carrying that idea as her original conception. But then she laughed again and said without regret that this was the situation in today's publishing market, which you just have to accept.
What was really interesting, however, is that, at least with Michele Roberts accompanying the book in person, you very much did get a sense of the differences between those two personae, and of the relationship she now has to her former self - which was actually pretty moving, to me and I know to others in the audience. Someone noted that while many writers like to distance themselves from their fiction writing (something which I tend to do as a protest against the cult of personality), Michele is very open about the relationship between her writing and her life and personality. Michele responded by saying that this stems from her sense (with Julia Kristeva) that writing comes from the body, is felt before it is articulated in language - something I can't argue with in the least.
Food for thought - and a really stimulating evening. (And some OK wine.)