Tuesday, 7 June 2016

New Writers Evening at Foyles

Ever on the hunt for new literary voices, Foyles bring together a panel of authors and an audience of readers to explore the road to publication and what lies beyond. I went along for an evening of readings and conversation from three new writers: Jem Lester, Barney Norris, and Kit de Waal.

Former journalist Jem Lester's debut novel Shtum, about three generations of men reluctantly living together under one roof in North London– one of whom can't talk, and two who won't. Inspired by his own experiences raising his profoundly austistic, non-verbal son, Jem is keen to dispel the myth of the gifted autistic child, and does so with warmth and humour in this funny and profound novel about personal identity and family history.

Award-winning playwright Barney Norris's much-anticipated debut novel Five Rivers Met on a Wooden Plain hinges upon one serious car crash that transforms five people's lives in a moment, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment and hope. It's an involving, heartstopping novel that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small town life.

Birmingham-based Kit de Waal's My Name is Leon tells the story of Leon, a nine-year-old boy who is threatened with being separated from his family. With a strong narrative voice and a powerful depiction of early-eighties racial tensions in Britain, it announces Kit as a major new voice in fiction.

The evening started with the three authors, Kit de Waal, Jem Lester and Barney Norris, introducing their books and doing readings. Then the fun started with questions from the audience.

Why did you write the novel?

Kit de Waal: It was a compulsion. I had to write it, the story had been with me for some years. i was compelled by Leon. People say the characters are diverse. I don't recognise that word. They are real, real to me.

Jem Lester: I didn't want to writ this book. Came from suggestion from someone. I had personal struggles with my own 16 year old son. I'd just won the tribunal, it had been a year-long struggle. Son started residential school on the Monday and on the Tuesday, I started the Masters degree at City University. I didn't want to deal with the story. Said no at first. Couldn't write it as a memoir and needed characters that would enlighten. I asked myself, how I would feel if someone else writes this. Autistic child at the centre of the novel was something I knew very well. It's realistic but also how hilarious life can be. 

Barney Norris: It started out of a love of books. Huge part of the impulse - loving having grown up reading, wanting to join in and play along. However, that was not quite enough and had to wait a few years. I'm trying to articulate experience of life, be a mouthpiece for the people you are part of. 

Did you have any doubts submitting your first books to publishers?

Barney Norris: Surrender. It's all about surrender.

Kit de Waal: When you think you've got a work of staggering genius, you then give it to someone else. I thought if they said this, I'd say that. But if the agent likes it, it then has to go out again. It's written about people you care about. If someone likes it you'll marry them. People say I cried at P.63 and that's what we want. [It was p.43, Kit! And I howled and howled.]

Jem Lester: If everybody says it's shite I can write something else. It's been a 30 year job. Very lucky that my agent heard it being read, 1500 words in a pub somewhere. She's followed it all the way through. Her hard work. Still can't believe that people like it more than me. Apart from the woman that said it gave her the shits. When it happens it is the most magical thing - [liking the book obviously not the shits].

You can follow the three authors on Twitter: 
Kit de Waal      @KitdeWaal
Jem Lester        @jemlester
Barney Norris   @barnontherun

Thank you to Foyles Bookshop for the free wine and pizza - yum!

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