The Female Gaze: Classics by Women Writers @ Edinburgh International Book Festival

Moyan Brenn, Edinburgh Festival / CC
Photograph: Moyan Brenn / CC

With: Lennie Goodings, Jackie Kay, Maggie O’Farrell, and Sarah Waters

Website: The Female Gaze: Classics by Women Writers

The Edinburgh International Book Festival sees Lennie Goodings chair the discussion as Jackie Kay, Maggie O’Farrell, and Sarah Waters speak about their favourite novels in the Virago Modern Classics collection and their own most recent work.

Virago Modern Classics were inspired by the Penguin Classics and are a collection of novels dedicated to celebrating female writers and reprinting their works. Jackie Kay used the word ‘nourishing’ to describe how authors who have not had the fame they deserve are now being given their recognition. From this list the authors discussed are Molly Keane, Rebecca West and Zora Neale Hurston.

Northern Irish novelist of contemporary fiction Maggie O’Farrell begins by discussing Good Behaviour by Molly Keane. The first novel she wrote under her own nameand talks a lot about what is unsaid in our lives which is a beautiful concept for a novel.

Welsh novelist, Rebecca West, is best known for her lesbian protagonists in novels such as Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith. Sarah Waters calls her semi-autobiographical novel The Fountain Overflows “fantastically meandering” and talks of how the main aspect of her writing is how families and society works. Waters is inspired by the way West uses language, talking of how she makes the reader see the words in a new way.

Writer of novels, short stories, plays and poetry Jackie Kay talks of the terrible buy cheap accutane in usa life, and terrible death, that Zora Neil Hurston endured and how her writing is inspirational for the black community. She wrote of all black communities which explored how the characters had to react to white people and the reaction of white people to them. She was a pioneer for this kind of writing that there needs to be more of.

Lennie Goodings, as chair, found it difficult to get these three authors off the subject of their idols and speak about their own novels so not much was said about these. However, she did manage to get Maggie O’Farrell to speak briefly on her newest book Instructions for a Heatwave. Sarah Waters was nudged towards discussing her latest novel The Paying Guests and Jackie Kay briefly mentioned her 2010 novel Red Dust Road.

The debate soon expanded to that of the demise of independent bookstores – an inevitable track when putting a group of writers together – with the group feeling very strongly on the subject and almost calling for a revolution to save them from the evils of online stores such as Amazon (who Jackie Kay in particular really dislikes).

The event was lively and interesting and it is refreshing to see such joy when people discuss their favourite books and authors and to see authors get so involved with the writing of others that they do not care about publicising their own.


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Christine Lawler 42 Articles
Christine has a passion for literature and has been a closeted writer since childhood. Other passions include theatre, film, and all things geeky. She lives in Glasgow with a cat named Molls and a tortoise named Haruki Kabuki.

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