Week six of UEA’s literary festival welcomed writers Tracy Chevalier and Glenn Patterson. The talk was hosted by Christopher Bigsby an award winning novelist and biographer, and Director of the Arthur Miller Centre here at UEA. Bigsby has been hosting the International Literary Festival for years and his comfortable approach to questioning the writers soon had them talking anecdotally about their literary careers and influences.
Photo: The Guardian
All writers who appear in the festival have at some point either studied at UEA or taught here and the writers enjoyed reminiscing about their time spent at the university. Patterson was inspired by Ian McEwan’s student life at UEA who reportedly spent three years ignoring his class work and concentrating instead on a collection of short stories. He saw Arthur Miller speak at the same literary festival during his time here, and was taught by Angela Carter, who was loved and feared by her students, and Bigsby himself. Chevalier studied a masters in creative writing here, and started her first novel here. She described how the discipline of studying creative writing improved her abilities, the discipline and deadlines and the little piece of paper awarded to her at the end gave her the motivation and skills she needed to be a writer.
Bigsby discussed with Chevalier and Patterson their relationship with the past and why it is a recurring theme in their respective works. Chevalier shared with the audience her relationship with books as a form of escapism, and how writing about history was another means of escaping her present. She claimed never to be lonely if she had a book, a statement which was met with an agreeable murmur from the audience. Her curiosity for her family’s history in particular sparked her interest in writing about the past. Patterson grew up in Belfast during the time of The Troubles, the city which became the setting for his writing because he knew it best. He retold how he left sectarian politics in Belfast at the age of sixteen when he moved to Canada, and with distance and being the outsider he found the inspiration to write about Belfast’s history. Which is another experience he shared with Chevalier who described the same effect when she moved from the US to the UK.
The writers shared their advice with the audience for anyone interested in the world of books which was, unsurprisingly, to read. Following this Chevalier read an excerpt from her most recent novel and Patterson shared three sections from a requiem for the people who died on the Titanic, which was built in Belfast. Overall the talk was a funny and refreshing instalment to this year’s literary festival.