Midweek Musings: Literary Salon Loveliness

literary-salon-lifebylotte So this week I headed off to what I will always call the Shoreditch House Literary Salon - except it's no longer called that. For those not in the know, it's an evening event that's been running for a long time now, organised by journalist and author Damian Barr. He gets established and up-and-coming authors to come along and give a reading from their books, then has a little chat with them and does a Q&A after. It's such a brilliant evening and I can't recommend it enough.

Back when I was writing fiction regularly (sniff sniff), I used to go quite often with my friend and fellow authoress Rebecca Connell, but stopped going a few years ago as the novel-writing side of my life gave way to the desire to earn enough money to keep myself in socks. Anyway I'm pleased to say that the event is still going strong, even if it's no longer held in Shoreditch House. Instead, the evening I went to was held in a ballroom at The Savoy - very swish. You used to get free pizza and gin and tonics at the Shoreditch House one, but this offering has been upgraded somewhat to free wine and sushi (which you have to buy alas). Probably for the best because from what I remember the pizza scrambling was always a rather uncouth affair - Becky and I used to position ourselves right by the bar to try to snatch a piece or two as it came out - there was never enough pizza to go round. Starving writers + rationed free food = not a pretty picture.

This last Salon featured four authors: Susan Calman, Garth Greenwell, Dame Joan Bakewell and my literary heroine Maggie O'Farrell, who gave a reading from her latest novel which I absolutely cannot wait to read and must now book a holiday to somewhere peaceful in order to devote proper time to devouring it. Not sure where the baby fits into that plan, alas. But I digress. If you're at all interested in writing (or reading!) then I really suggest you try to come down to the Salon - it's the kind of evening that makes you feel like you should be contributing (creatively at least) more to life, but in a good way. A motivating way. It's also funny, relaxed and very enjoyable. Keep an eye on the Facebook page to find out the details of the next event - and be quick, as tickets sell out really fast. You can also listen to this week's event on podcast - definitely worth doing, Joan Bakewell is an inspiration.

An evening with Maggie O'Farrell

Maggie O'Farrell Maggie O'Farrell is probably my most favourite living author. I am actually so in awe of her that I sort of hate her, which isn't very nice, because from what I've seen she's actually a lovely person.

I first heard Maggie speak at a Good Housekeeping 'Book Day' event, years ago when I was working on handbag.com, and the ace web-editor for GH, knowing I was writing a novel, let me gatecrash. It was held at the Mermaid Theatre and Maggie was part of a panel of authors taking part in a discussion. I can't remember what the topic of the discussion was because it was in about 2007, but I remember coming away impressed by Maggie in particular, and fired up to write more, and better.

And then I started to read Maggie's novels, and was just blown away, repeatedly. My favourite is After You'd Gone, but I was also totally charmed by The Hand That First Held Mine. They're what I call 'proper' books - stories that you completely lose yourself in, that impress with both their beautiful writing as well as their twisty plots and perceptively crafted characters. They basically win on every level. Like I said, it's tempting to hate her.

I've also heard Maggie speak at the Shoreditch House Literary Salon - which I used to go to all the time but which has unfortunately (but rightly) become so popular that the last time I went I couldn't get in (would like to point out here that I was one of the ORIGINAL MEMBERS. Ahem.)

So I was very excited when I stumbled across the opportunity to hear her again (although I'm aware I'm beginning to sound a bit like a stalker), at an event at Waterstones Piccadilly to launch her new novel, Instructions For a Heatwave.

Instructions for a Heatwave, Maggie O'Farrell

It was a lovely, civilised evening, the likes of which I should have more often. To start with, Maggie read an excerpt from the book, then she was interviewed by Observer journalist Elizabeth Day. Then there were questions from the audience and a signing. And Bucks Fizz.

Sadly, I made a total pratt of myself getting my book signed - as Maggie was signing it, I was so nervous that I blurted out I was unlikely to actually read the hardback itself, as I was going to buy it on Kindle anyway. Massive cringe.

She was very gracious about my ridiculous outburst, thankfully. She was completely charming throughout the evening, actually, extolling feminism in a calm but spirited and firm manner, and handling a rather random and undeserved criticism from one of the audience with ease. So I still love/hate her.

I haven't started the book yet so can't include a review with this post unfortunately (although it'd likely just be a massive gushfest anyway). It feels like a lovely treat that's awaiting me. I almost want to book a week on a desert island somewhere so that I can savour it completely...