It turns out that I love talking about Sedition. Who knew! But I also like listening to what others make of my girls, and of course their fathers, mothers and Monsieur. At a Glasgow book salon on Wednesday, there was much quizzing about the genesis of the book and the ending. In truth, I don’t know where the darkness comes from, except that in the recesses of my mind there lurks all manner of stuff. All imagined. There’s nothing whatsoever autobiographical about Sedition. Imagination can often lead to much weirder places than experience, and following your imagination is what gives novel writing its particular pleasure (and pain, too – writing is a painful business). So, my imagination led and I followed. Readers, naturally, are curious. They want to see backwards, as it were, to before the book. I try not to be evasive, but sometimes evasiveness is nearer the truth than a straight answer.
Anna Burnside runs her salons in true Glasgow spirit: thought for her salonistas (hot soup of a brilliant purple hue – ’twas beetroot, a startling vegetable); thought for others (the Maryhill food bank); and thought for the book. She sets the tone of the conversation. No holds barred. Wonderful meaty stuff. At the end of the evening, you don’t simply leave, you emerge. My girls and I felt properly ‘saloned’. Thank you, Anna. Thank you, fellow salonistas. It was an honour.
This piece of music, Les Barricades Mysterieuse composed by Francois Couperin (1668-1773)will be familiar to many – or perhaps more accurately to few, since few people now go to church, and fewer still to a church with music. Anyhow, Les Barricades will be familiar to many of the few who DO go to church since it’s a favourite to fill the moments when people are shuffling up to communion. My favourite recording is by Angela Hewitt, but that recording is under copyright. So here’s a free offering, played on the harpsichord, and why not! http://www.last.fm/music/Fran%C3%A7ois+Couperin/_/Les+Barricades+Mysterieuses
There is no photographic evidence, thank goodness. I’m not a fan of the camera. Without a camera, I can pretend I really did look as I imagined I looked. So – at a large Sedition gathering on Saturday evening (a book event no less) in a capacious North Yorkshire barn, I wore black velvet and lace and looked, I hope, the picture of metropolitan authordom. Whatever – since the audience was huddled in sheepskin and goosedown (boiler breakdown meant the temp was lower than expected) I certainly stood out. I read; people questioned; we discussed; we agreed; we disagreed; I read some more. There was wine. I enjoyed myself. My girls enjoyed themselves. Thank you, North Yorkshire, for true Yorkshire hospitality. And to the very nice lady who thought the sex scenes should have been longer, I say only this: when you summon a man to tune your piano, you don’t, unless you’re really really lucky, get a concert.
Concentration is crucial to every successful venture, from skating to writing to cooking, even to walking the dog. I mean, when you walk a dog you should notice things the dog may be trying to tell you. At the moment, our old dog’s saying ‘it’s a bit muddy’ and the younger dog’s saying ‘why does the old dog get breakfast when I don’t?’. I acknowledge the observation and the question, even though there’s nothing to be done about the mud and, gee Blackberry, Crumble is OLD! That’s why she gets breakfast.
Once back in my study, I fossick about, then try to concentrate on a new work. I can’t call it a work in progress since some days there’s no progress at all. I find myself still submerged in Sedition, not just thinking about the book’s upcoming events, but in the story itself. This may be because every evening I practise my Goldberg, so every evening I’m back with my girls. Sometimes I play as doltishly as Everina, sometimes badly as Marianne, sometimes wistfully as Georgiana and sometimes smartish, like Harriet. Sadly, I never match Annie or Alathea, though I’ll never give up hoping that one evening, just once, my Goldberg aria will catch something of their intelligence.
The dogs are Bach fans. I suggest no musical sensibility, only that once I sit down at the piano they know they can curl up in their warm lidded beds for an hour or two, ears uncocked, eyes closed. I’ll be concentrating on fingering. They’ll be concentrating on sleep. We’re not lacking concentration in this house, it’s just not always properly directed.
A candid admission by Benjamin Franklin, with a tartan twist at the end. It’s a bit wordy, but perseverance is rewarded, particularly for Glaswegians.
“There was another bookish lad in the town, John Collins by name, with whom I was intimately acquainted. We sometimes disputed, and very fond we were of argument, and very desirous of confuting one another, which disputatious turn, by the way, is apt to become a very bad habit, making people often extremely disagreeable in company by the contradiction that is necessary to bring it into practice; and thence, besides souring and spoiling the conversation, is productive of disgusts and perhaps enmities where you may have occasion for friendship. I had caught it by reading my father’s books of dispute about religion. Persons of good sense, I have since observed, seldom fall into it, except lawyers, university men, and men of all sorts that have been bred at Edinburgh.”
Sedition‘s reviews of the week are clipped by Virago and arrive on a Saturday, neatly packaged up. The envelope is pleasingly fat, and with due terror I sit down to read. Don’t be alarmed! This is no gush. The reviews are online. Not online are the reactions of friends and relations, and reaction has been violent.
My father (92) read Sedition, was outraged, and retired to bed with shingles. An elderly acquaintance, seeing the book features girls, sniffed, and, being that sort of chap, closed it with a snap. What creatures some men are. Not all men, of course. Some of Sedition‘s biggest fans are men. The book occasionally makes them wince, much as it makes the fathers of my Sedition girls wince, but, so my male friends tell me, wince in a good way, except for the bit when … (ah! you’ll have to read the book to discover more).
The surprise of friends, not that I could write a book but that I could write SUCH a book, is divided between alarm and delight. The delight of friends is matched only by my own delight in their delight. To the alarmed, I’ve taken to quoting the words of the Guardian, that Sedition was not written to ‘console or instruct, but to unsettle and to excite’.
Perhaps that’s where the real division lies. Those looking for consolation or instruction have found Sedition a strong tipple – for some, too strong. Those up for disturbance and excitement have been disturbed and excited enough to ring or email and tell me so. So far, nobody has had no reaction which actually, despite leaving me in a heap of one kind or another, is most pleasing of all.