My first day at the Edinburgh Book Festival. It was such a dreich day, but he welcome was warm and the place was buzzing as I arrived from Glasgow for my first event.
After checking in and getting my blogger pass, it was off to the Spiegeltent for Stella Duffy, chaired by Creative Scotland’s Jenny Niven. Author of 16 novels, actor, director, creator of fun palaces and holder of an OBE for services to the Arts, Duffy is a passionate advocate for the arts and for the involvement and appreciation of people everywhere,irrespective of opportunity.
Hidden Room, her psychological thriller out last year, was her first crime book in 12 years and 8 books. When she started to write it, she thought it would be a horror story, but as she says, ‘sometimes the story dictates the form’. From which you will infer that Stella Duffy is a pantser not a plotter.
She says that all her books are quite different because she never really has the headspace to replicate the success of the previous book. It’s just not her style – though she does say that all her stories are essentially about family secrets and lies.
Duffy was brought up in New Zealand and was honoured to have been asked by Harper Collins and the 2 nephews of Ngaio Marsh, who look after her estate, to take 5,000 words of a 1942/43 novel and a page of notes and to complete the novel that Ngaio Marsh started. Money in the Morgue has been shortlisted for this year’s CWA Historical Dagger.
Like Duffy, Marsh was also a theatre director. In 1932, a family tragedy brought Marsh home to New Zealand, and in 1949 her writing would earn her the ultimate distinction when Penguin and Collins released the ‘Marsh Million’: 100,000 copies each of ten of her titles on to the world market.
Stella Duffy contends that Marsh, though not necessarily a better plotter than Christie, certainly had a better sense of bothplace and character.
Duffy talked about the fun palaces movement which she was instrumental in starting, inspired by Joan Littlewood.The idea is to take a community building like a library and use it to bring people and their passions together. Whether singing, or gardening, the idea is to have a completely non threatening environment that positively welcomes everyone in. There’s a mixture of things to get involved in, like a mini festival and it’s a place where everyone can go, because everyone has something to offer. It’s access to create, not consume.
As for the future, Stella Duffy has just signed a 2 book deal with Virago (Yaay!) and she is definitely up for another Roderick Alleyn book, so there’s a lot for us readers to look forward to.
Passionate and inspiring, Stella Duffy was a terrific listen.
Also inspiring was my next session. Afua Hirsch, a guest selector for this year’s festival, interviewed Rose McGowan, author of Brave.
What a woman! Director, actor, author, Rose McGowan has become renowned as the woman who led the movement to break the silence. Brave is a book about identity and finding your voice. It is also a searing indictment of the cult of Hollywood.
McGowan knows it is a cult, because she recognises it. She was born into one. Her father was Head of the Italian branch of the Children of God. After moving to the States she ran away, aged 13 and lived a transient lifestyle until being ‘discovered’ in L.A.
McGowan set out to tell it how it is. Growing up she watched her father using trigger words in the cult. She was, as she says, in a hardcore specific version of a cult. She saw her father wire thoughts into peoples minds. In Hollywood it was like being trapped in the same kind of structure, even if diluted.
She developed a strong instinct for danger and bullshit when she was young, yet she didn’t recognise the problems Hollywood threw up until she was in it. She naively believed that as Hollywood employers, she would be treated fairly, and did not think she would be set up, which she was by both men and women. She does call it as it is. Referring to the rape couch, rather than the euphemistic ‘casting couch’ .
She did talk a bit about the man she calls The Monster and she says it is good to show that you can cut off the head of power. But she also remarks that a great deal of the protection the Monster received came from the Democratic Party.
Her story is in this remarkable book, and she has clearly been through a great deal, treading a lonely path and from which I think she has not fully recovered. She is an immensely strong woman, but the stand that she took was clearly at great personal cost.
She is currently homeless, travelling and looking for somewhere to settle again. She has found telling her story in Brave has helped her to make peace and she has plans for another book and an album.
Her message to everyone is that it is never too late to be free. I found her to be strong and brave and astounding in the best possible way.
I was pleased to see Madeleine Black, also in the audience and now they have each other’s books, which feels so very right.