Artist’s Date #2 – Cheltenham Literature Festival

Not the greatest photo but the light was fading!

Not the greatest photo but the light was fading!

Tonight I went to see American novelist Anita Shreve at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and that definitely qualified as an ‘artist’s date’ because:

1. I went on my own
2. It was something that I was excited about and that I don’t normally do
3. It took 4 hours!
4. It took me a little bit out of my comfort zone (especially in that blasted one-way system around Cheltenham, with a rebellious SAV-NAV).

It’s true that when you go on an ‘artist’s date’, you notice much more than if you’re with a friend.

For example, I listened to Radio 2 on the way over and one of the songs that Len Goodman played, gave me the perfect ‘missing element’ for a story I’ve been mulling over for months now. Result! (and no, I’m not going to tell you anymore until – and if – it gets published!)

Then, when I got there, I took great delight in overhearing snippets of other people’s conversations:

“Hmm.. it’s gritty – very gritty.”
“She’s lost it. She can’t even remember her own name.”
“Who is it we’re seeing again? Oh, yes – Anita Shreve.”

And then, as we were waiting to be let into the room in the Town Hall, where the author was to be unveiled, I watched people: there was the man with the dancing eyebrows. Every time I caught his eye, he seemed to be giving me a ‘signal’ but then I realised that he just raised his eyebrows, involuntarily (and disconcertingly!) every few seconds; the girl who stood with her feet in third position and yawned, big and wide, without putting her hand over her mouth. And finally, the woman who was reading an Anita Shreve book as she waited.

Ballet feet - third position

Ballet feet – third position

I’ve only read one or two Anita Shreve novels, so I don’t claim to be her biggest fan but it’s always interesting to hear a successful writer interviewed and I wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s what I discovered:

• Anita Shreve has written 18 novels. One of them ‘Resistance‘ is based on her husband’s family and was made into a film starring Bill Paxton and Julia Ormond.

• She says it’s difficult to classify ‘an Anita Shreve novel’ because every one is different (different style, subject matter, structure) and she likes it that way. She likes to keep challenging herself and to keep it interesting.

• She’s always written ‘in secret’. As a child she wrote poems under the bed clothes, during her first marriage, when her (now ex!) husband told her she couldn’t do it because ‘you have to be very skilled and intelligent to write a novel’, she wrote without telling him, when he was out and even now, NO-ONE – not beta readers, nor friends, or her second (presumably more tolerant) husband – not even her editors – read the book before it’s finished.

• She writes in longhand, types up her work, prints it out and edits by hand. Everything ‘important’ is done by hand.

• She writes from about 8am – 1pm every day, then she stops and doesn’t think about the novel-in-progress again until she sits down the next morning to work on it. (How wonderful, to be able to ‘compartmentalise’ like that!)

The Festival is on until 11th October – another week to go – so if you’re in or around that area, it could be worth a visit!

Cheltenham Festival 002

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13 Responses to Artist’s Date #2 – Cheltenham Literature Festival

  1. Wendy Clarke says:

    I remember when you went on your first ‘artist’s date’ and how pleased you were that you’d done it. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat so it would probably do me good to go to something on my own. I’m still chuckling about the man with the dancing eyebrows… Good job you didn’t respond!

  2. charliebritten says:

    I write in secret too. I’m about to do it right now. A work in progress is too private to share with anyone.

    • Charlie, I agree! It was a definite relief to me to hear Anita Shreve say that she doesn’t ‘share’ until it’s finished! There seems to be an expectation these days (especially if you have an idea for a novel, for example..) that you’ll tell everyone all about it!

  3. CJ says:

    That’s really interesting. I don’t let my other half read anything either, I know he would be scathing! So it’s good to hear I’m not alone.

    • Anita Shreve says she couldn’t bear to tell anyone about her story idea or WIP either, just in case they winced, or frowned or put her off the whole thing! I can sympathise with that too. Best to go with your instincts, write it and then see what people think..!

  4. dvaal says:

    For an author date I climbed my Mt. Everest. I went to New York City by myself for 2 days. It was amazing! thanks for your encouragement. Also, I have begun reading Barbara Freethy. I love her books! I write at all times. I don’t stop until I get the words out of my head, which can be all hours. Not the best, I know, but how I am.

  5. juliathorley says:

    I was a volunteer festival elf at Cheltenham a couple of years ago and it was one of the best fortnights of my life.

  6. Julia, I remember you doing that! (Did you ever write about it? Would have made – or would still make – a great article!). In fact, as I was collecting my tickets at the Box Office on Sunday evening, I looked at all the volunteers and thought about you! Bet it was fun – hard work though?!

  7. philippabowe says:

    That sounds like an excellent artist’s date – and it is definitely always very fruitful to push yourself out of your comfort zone, no matter how scary; those are usually the best experiences. I haven’t managed a single date yet, but hope to soon! And yes, it does sometimes feel like you might jinx a story if you share it too soon, rather than sheltering it until it’s grown hardy enough to survive exposure to the outside world…I’m lucky that I have a sister I can share all my writing with, every idea, good or bad, every fear and inspiration…

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