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LitFest Reviews - Chapter Two: Rose Tremain and Amy Sackville

Rose Tremain on stage with Alex Clark (Photo © Ben Phillips)Rose Tremain on stage with Alex Clark (Photo © Ben Phillips)It was fitting that author Rose Tremain was this year’s Marlborough Litfest Golding Speaker - interviewed by Alex Clark.   She told a packed Town Hall audience on Friday evening (September 28) that she was “...delighted to be talking in Golding’s name. His unique voice with a different supposition for each book inspired me to start as a writer. He has been a wonderful influence on me.”

 


Like Golding, Tremain’s many novels and short stories explore different times, places and genres: “Writers need to be restless. Freshness in writing is what I aspire to…having done one particular thing, to then go somewhere else.”

Of the many novels she has written, her 1989 novel Restoration remains the novel she is most proud of. “I know it makes people laugh, which is important in this vale of tears. It makes people feel better about themselves…I love its longevity and the fact it still makes people giggle.”

Tremain, who has been short listed for the Whitbread Novel of the Year and the Orange Prize, has recently published her own memoir, Rosie – scenes from a vanished life. In it she explores the lost world of her childhood and upbringing, or as she states, her ‘journey of becoming’.

While her upper middle class upbringing was materially comfortable and privileged, emotionally it was a disaster area. Her grandparents’ generation was, she says, grief stricken by the losses from two world wars. And this in turn affected her parents’ generation.

It was her nanny who saved her. “Nan was always there and gave me day to day love. That’s why I’m not a complete disaster.”

The book also traces her beginnings as a writer. She recalls returning from a tennis match at school on a beautiful balmy summer evening and wandering through a hay field. That moment she says was like an epiphany:  “I wanted to hang on to the memory. I realised that if I went back and wrote a story set in the hay field that would fix it for a long time. The story would have a life which could last a long time.”

Tremain’s first novel, Sadler’s Birthday, published in 1976, is her only novel set in the world of her grandparents with the central character a butler in a large country estate. However, she inverted the natural order of things by having the butler inherit the estate.  Since then she says, “I’ve moved a lot in fiction - in time and gender."

“Perhaps,” she mused, “this is the idea - let me not be stuck in this time warp. Let me not be stuck.”

The Golding Speaker event is sponsored by William Golding Limited - and Golding's daughter, Judy Carver, was there to hear Rose Tremain. 

Tony Millett writes:  Next day Alex Clark was on stage again - this time to interview Amy Sackville about her novel Painter to the King which tells the story of the relationship between King Philip IV of Spain and his court painter Diego Velasquez.

Amy Sackville...& her novel (Photo © Ben Phillips)Amy Sackville...& her novel (Photo © Ben Phillips)It was some relief to hear that we do not need to try to pronounce Diego's surname with those Spanish 'th's' sounds we learnt at school - plain old Velas-quess will do just as well! 

Amy Sackville was first drawn to Velasquez as an example of the court painter - occupying a strangely still position in the midst of the whirling intrigues of court life in those times.  There are not many records of the painter's life: "We don't have a sense of who he was - especially not day to day." 

But we do know that he became not just the King's painter - capturing on canvas ordinary people and servants as well as courtiers and royalty - but also a Courtier himself.  And he formed a close relationship with the King who was worried and depressed about mortality and his legacy.

Amy thought Velasquez survived at court because he was "very reserved, very well mannered - a perfect courtier".  She told us about her research: "I kept finding story after story - and saying I must have that one... It's not a neat narrative.  It's messy - people's lives are messy." 

Writing the novel took her a long time - and she wrestled a lot with the position of the writer as narrator.  She wanted to see whether she could write to give the impression of the artist's brush strokes - which, she admitted, was a bit of a risky thing to do.  But it is effective.

Asked whether she was 'happy with how it turned out' and the ending, she replied: "Yes.  I think we just sort of stop.  I had an idea it would be a big book - but there's a limit to how far we test readers' patience!  I'm fine with it."

Certainly the last two questioners were full of praise for this extraordinary, risky and successful novel.   You can read Amy Sackville's interview with marlborough.news that previewed this event - here.

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