I’d met Julie Myerson before Thursday evening’s event at Waterstone’s in Nottingham. A few years back I bumped into her at the Guardian First Book Award party and told her how much I loved her book ‘Something Might Happen’ which also made me cry in public because it was so awful. I had been helping myself to liberal amounts of red wine. She was quite charming and apologised for upsetting me.
On Thursday she was similarly charming. Talking about her most recent novel ‘Then’, she mentioned that she doesn’t like it being described as “post-apocalyptic” but instead preferred “tomorrow”. What if you woke up and everything was different? In this case, she was inspired by stories of the past where British rivers froze over in winter. There were a number of inevitable comparisons with The Road. Someone called it The Road without the redemption. A man in the audience stuck his hand up and told her that “I really enjoyed it, despite it being such a horrific story. It was compelling, right from the beginning.” She was thrilled. I was a little encouraged – clearly my drunken comments all those years ago weren’t that unusual.
What is interesting to me about Myerson is her ability to capture the dark stuff. A friend who has read my book asked for more details about one particular character’s back story and I refused to tell her. Or anyone. At one point this was in the book – I wrote a scene, it sprang from a “what if?” conversation – and then I cut it out. It wasn’t right. But another reason was that I appalled myself in the writing of it, how easily writing like that came to me.
Julie Myerson sat there and said that she was interested in why good people do evil things, about people’s states of mind, how they think, that she looks at the same stories in different ways and that she writes of romantic and maternal love and loss. I felt simultaneously inspired and inadequate. I am too, I want to do all of that, I want to try the same things. She wrote of things that scared her. So I should really take the scene that appalled me and make it into a book.
The evening seemed to turn into a mini book group meeting which I rather enjoyed. It enables you to get down to the nitty gritty bits about writing and reading, and the audience was full of reading group members. Myerson talked about writing in the first person, which she prefers to do but that she sometimes feels that she ought to write in the third person. ‘Something Might Happen’ was written in third person and was sent back by her agent to be rewritten in her usual style.
I’ve been writing in the third person myself but wonder at it sounding stiff. I also found the confessional first person part of my book the easiest to write fully and wrote it fast. So there are things to experiment with here. What stopped me writing more in the first person is that I don’t like reading it very much. Or so I told myself, but thinking about it, some of my favourite novels are in the first person – Jane Eyre, Brother of the More Famous Jack.
I haven’t been to a book event since I stopped running them and I haven’t enjoyed being at a book event for much longer than that. Having gone off reading for a while after I stopped working for Waterstone’s, I’ve come back to it slowly. In the same way, this was a nice reintroduction and I’ve come away full of ideas, so much so that I woke Simon twice last night by getting up to scribble things down before I forgot them. Now to find the time to explore them properly.