PREVIEW: In Conversation gives audience the chance to hear from two debut novelists

Written by Lucy Budd.


Alex Hourston and Jemma WayneAlex Hourston and Jemma WayneThe annual Marlborough festival of Literature Hiscox Young Authors In Conversation event will take place at on Sunday, October 4 from noon in the Merchant’s House.

The conversation will be from two authors, Alex Hourston and Jemma Wayne, discussing their debut novels in what promises to be a refreshing and insightful event.

Wayne’s novel, After Before, and Hourston’s In My House explore in different ways the thorny, complex but often necessary relationship between women who, for wildly differing reasons, find themselves detached from life and perhaps themselves.

Hourston, who left a career in advertising before writing her novel says that her protagonist, the 57 year old Maggie, and her dog-walking friends are ‘outsiders by choice’, adding that perhaps her attraction to writing such characters was a ‘sort of subconscious rejection’ of the West End world of media that she was so used to.

Maggie’s measured way of living and her wilful rejection of intimacy is thrown into disarray when her life suddenly becomes entangled with that of a teenager. Anja, the Albanian girl Maggie helps escape from being trafficked, enters her life in a way that unexpectedly and irrevocably alters both of them.

Their claustrophobic, uncomfortable, but blossoming friendship reveals the ultimate impossibility of hemming in emotions and shutting oneself off from the messiness of life and love. With Anja’s presence, Maggie’s life-defining secret, over which she has been plagued with guilt, eventually emerges.

Contained within In My House are many fascinating ideas about character and the self, which should make for a dynamic conversation at the Merchant’s House.

Hourston tells me that the idea of Maggie arose from a discussion between her mother and brother-in-law over whether human character is innate or far more fluid, liable to be revised, reworked and transformed many times over one’s lifetime. She also explains that writing Maggie felt ‘less invention and more discovery’.

Maggie’s secret revealed itself to Hourston unexpectedly, as if she felt the answer ‘leap from the page’ She describes the moment as ‘truly beautiful… and one that has never been repeated since, but does support the idea that plot, at best, arises from character’.

Jemma Wayne’s After Before also explores the interweaving of different lives and the power of unlikely friendship. She portrays with great perception the plight of three very different women thrown together by circumstance and all barely existing on the verge of both their lives and society.

In the same way as In My House, outward appearances of a grey existence are disguising scenes of desperation, and sometimes pure horror. Again, as in In My House, the female characters all struggle with painful re-livings of their past, or ‘Before’, that they would much rather keep contained.

Both haunting and evocatively describing the haunted, this novel explores the inescapable nature of one’s ‘before’ and the redeeming and regenerative potential of friendship. A thoroughly bold and powerful novel, this is Wayne’s first after a background in journalism.

With such daring new novels, the event should be an hour of innovative and stimulating discussion, with the chance to listen to and interact with two exciting upcoming authors.

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