On a balmy evening, we were out in the courtyard at Mostly Books for a precursor evening to Independent Booksellers Week (28th June to 5th July – find out more here). Mark and Nikki had managed to get not one but two lovely authors, Kate Clanchy and Louise Millar, to discuss the topic “What makes a good book group book?” with the gathered audience.
First let me introduce you to the authors: Kate on the left is an award-winning poet and writes for radio, her memoir Antigona and Me (which I reviewed here back in the early days of this blog) is the true story of Kate’s cleaner when she lived in London – a Korsovan refugee, and truly is a good book for discussion. Recently Kate wrote the Costa-nominated Meeting the English – which is a gloriously funny Hampstead comedy about a young Scotsman who comes down to London for a job, (I’ll be reviewing it shortly for Shiny New Books).
On the right, Louise, by contrast, comes from the world of journalism via Smash Hits and Marie-Claire. She writes psychological thrillers and her latest is The Hidden Girl about a couple that move to the country to create the perfect life into which to bring a child. Her previous novels The Playdate and Accidents Happen have been big hits. (I’m nearly 100 pages into Accidents Happen, which is set in Oxford, at the moment and it’s getting really interesting and not a little scary.)
The evening started off by bookshop owner Mark chatting with Kate and Louise about their bookgroup experiences. Both have been to bookgroups as visiting authors, but are not members of one. Interestingly, Kate said that she found that as an author, when she’d tried to be a member her opinions tended to be taken too seriously and that inhibited the other members, so although she has friends in lovely groups, she won’t now join them.
Both authors said that when they visit book groups, it’s the diplomatic thing to either not join the group at the start, or to withdraw before the end of the meeting – so those who didn’t like the book but have been too polite to say so can get their chance! Louise was surprised at the way people tend to talk about her novels at book groups – it’s not the suspense that generates the discussion, but the underlying family issues.
Kate and Louise then read from their latest books, and the authors answered questions about their writing styles and writing day before returning to the big question of the evening – and the discussion became a free for all. When actually asked the question what makes a good book group book, no-one in the courtyard could say with any certainty that it is possible to predict, however, everyone agreed that a book that generates more than a ‘s’alright’ opinion is needed. Publicists offering ‘good book group books’ were viewed with a little suspicion – their job is ultimately to generate sales. The audience was divided over the value of book group reading guides at the back of books, a few felt they’re patronising, others like them.
Nearly everyone in the audience, bar the authors themselves, were members of a book group, and there was just one male other than the shop staff present. This inevitably led to some discussion over how men and women read differently, and whether men tend perhaps to be a little more reticent about discussing the books they read in book groups. There was a huge variety in how book groups in the audience run themselves and choose their books too. Some are quite formal – choosing from a short-list suggested by the shop and/or meet in the shop for serious discussion; some take it in turns to host and maybe the host chooses the next book; others like mine are quite informal and meet in the pub, (as we
‘re too lazy to host at home like the neutral setting and beer).
Both authors were absolutely lovely to talk to, and really easy to engage with. It was a very pleasant evening indeed.
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To explore works by these authors on Amazon UK, please click below:
Meeting the English, Antigona and Me, Newborn (Picador Poetry) – by Kate Clanchy – all paperbacks.
The Hidden Girl(hardback), Accidents Happen, The Playdate (paperbacks) by Louise Millar.