If ever there was a dreich autumn night it was Thursday. It was one of those nights where you just wanted to coorie in with a good book and light the stove. But thanks to the Edinburgh Reads programme, I had tickets to see Jane Harris at the Central Library in Edinburgh so I peeled myself off the couch to take the train east.
I also dragged my hubby along for company and he did question whether it was worth braving the weather when the tickets were free. Couldn’t I just content myself with reading the book and stay cosy? Well no, because chances like this to see a writer you admire don’t happen every week so up went the brolly and off we trotted. And I’m so glad we did. I’ve followed Jane on Twitter for some time and found her tweets to be witty and interesting and she didn’t disappoint in person. If anything I was even more in awe of her talent to entertain as she had the audience in stitches with her banter.
Often at readings, I find it hard to concentrate on long passages and my mind wanders. Not this time as Jane’s skill at accents turned this into a performance rather than a reading. I’m currently halfway through her first novel, The Observations and Jane really brought the voice of Bessy to life.
I don’t normally read historical fiction as I prefer contemporary fiction but I kept hearing recommendations that Jane’s other Victorian novel, Gillespie and I was a fantastic book. Based on these rave reviews and the setting of Glasgow which appealed to my love of the city I decided to give it a go. The book is a dark tale with a disturbing psychological plot and a great read as you wonder about the motivations of the complex character of Harriet, the unreliable narrator.
Hearing Jane’s inspiration for memorable characters like Bessy and Harriet was fascinating but the best bit of the event for me was the Q and A session. This is always a great insight into a writer’s techniques and it was interesting to learn that Jane uses the complete opposite to the Freefall technique which I’ve been recommending others try since completing the first draft of my novel. Jane reads her work aloud as she writes it and finds it difficult to take off her ‘editor’s hat’ as she writes and won’t progress with the story until she’s absolutely satisfied with each and every sentence. Her meticulous attention to detail and extensive research means that Jane doesn’t churn out novels year after year. But then again, with such layered plots and well-drawn characters it’s easy to see why it would be impossible to mass produce work of this quality.
There is no right and wrong way to write a novel and I’m still experimenting with techniques. Which technique works best for you? Slow and steady wins the race or spontaneous freestyle to reach the finishing line?