by Jamilah Ahmed
The enjoyment of any Upper Wimpole Literary Salon evening begins as soon as you cross the threshold – into the home of another writer, and into the company of other writers. We have put aside all other responsibilities to talk to one another, and collectively validate the often solitary work we are engaged in.
The evening with Linda Grant was no different. The gorgeous North London home of our generous host Lucasta Miller offered respite from the windy, wet London streets, and the promise of properly interesting conversation.
Catherine Davidson began by noting that her various novels involve a stranger entering a setting with very fixed values, and so the character has to navigate and explore that world immediately. Linda talked about having flamboyant Polish parents, being a bookish girl at a very English school, and how ‘imposter syndrome’ often lurks in the background. Perhaps not surprising then that her novels set off something incendiary in sedate, stable settings, and so the drama begins.
Not a planner, Linda talked about the importance, for her, of not knowing where a book was going, and of writing without a sense of direction as being key to her enjoyment of the process, and the characters. Looking back on completed works always seemed to show that ‘the book knew what it was doing all along’. Reassurance for the less structured amongst us!
The conversation touched ever so briefly on Brexit, Linda with an eye on her publisher Lennie Goodings who had also joined us. They both agreed it is most definitely not a ‘Brexit novel’, but does attend to the theme of the outsider that is a constant in Linda’s writing.
Catherine also talked of how pleasing it to be given details of clothing and so on. Linda is firmly of the opinion that women can enjoy the surface details while also having depth, and it was apparent that many in the room greeted this approach with enthusiasm too.
We were also delighted to hear an excerpt of her latest novel in progress. Whereas her previous work tends to be set in the recent past, her forthcoming work breaks with this tradition. Linda described the overheard conversation in a tube that gave her the starting point. We know that two unrelated people go missing, but will have to wait for publication to know what happens next…
Questions from other members were, as always, fascinating and relevant, another characteristic typical at this event, unlike some others! We forgot to note them down, so busy were we listening and chatting. We wrapped up with a last question about writers who have influenced Linda, which established that Dickens gets her vote over Eliot because he is never humourless…we all moved downstairs to refresh glasses, buy books and carry on the strands of conversation before heading off at the end of another very satisfying evening.