5 things we learnt at The Riff Raff in August
After months of sweltering temperatures, it was lashing it down with rain on Riff Raff night. But nay bother – it did nothing to dampen spirits, amongst our authors or our audience, and we were a full house as we gathered for August.
This was our second event in our new home, located a whole staircase from where we were before (in the bar upstairs). We're really taken with the room, even if it does require the use of a microphone that I have to stand on a chair to reach. But whatever – with the stories our authors had to share, we would do anything to shout from the rooftops.
So, what nuggets of writing gold did we glean?
Don't write to get published
We've heard this in many, various guises but it was Molly Flatt, author of The Charmed Life of Alex Moore, and our first writer for the night, that really did it justice.
'I thought my idea was totally mad,' said Molly, adding that her Bridget-Jones-meets-The-Matrix concept – since termed 'neuro-science-fiction' – did put some publishers off. But Molly wrote her story regardless because 'it was the story I had been waiting for to feel healthy and inspired'.
'Our world is based in magic and wonder,' she said. 'It is so damn weird that commercial fiction needs to be a little bit weird, too.'
Molly, we couldn't agree more.
It's OK to blur the lines
We owe Luke Tredget an apology. Every time we speak to the Kismet author, whether on the podcast or at an event, we come back to the same theme: how, in his protagonist Anna, did he so masterfully manage to capture the voice of a mixed-up women who has just turned 30 when Luke himself is... well, anything but.
Luke gamely answered our question with poise and insight, and reminded us that the female experience is not so singular. When I referenced a section in Kismet where Anna excuses herself from a date to check her fringe wasn't unruly, he said he'd had the same issue himself.
It was a flippant example that made a deeper point: 'It's OK to blur the lines,' said Luke, referring to the author's allegiance to assumption and reality, 'some things are felt by both men and women.'
And, said Luke, it is up to the author to create, and rule, the world and its inhabitants. 'I love the power you have to drag people along.'
Perseverance is all
We all write for different reasons: some for the kudos, others for the money (poor, deluded souls); Anbara Salam, our third author for the night, wrote her debut Things Bright And Beautiful 'as an act of pure escapism'.
Her story is set on a remote jungle island and follows missionary Max and his wife Beatriz as they encounter an isolated community and try to spread the gospel. It's not long before things get dark, and dangerous.
For Anbara, writing the book was a way of tapping into her own darkness and 'to try and communicate what I couldn't say to my friends and family' – even if her writing style is, by her own admission, a 'hot mess' (the final book is, in our opinion, gorgeous).
It took Anbara until the second draft to realise that she was tapping into gothic themes, and had to remove 6,000 words on gardening to get there. But, as she said: 'If I hadn't persevered, I wouldn't be here now.'
Fiction not only generates empathy but makes people empathetic
Ellen Wiles is one talented writer. Not only was she a barrister in her pre-writing life, her debut novel, The Invisible Crowd, is nominated for The Guardian's Not The Booker. No surprise to us: its themes of immigration and otherness are both timely and engaging.
'I wanted to think about all the different ways you might encounter an immigrant,' Ellen told us, highlighting the empathy that fiction can evoke (as well as the challenges of writing a multi-narrative novel: 'I suddenly realised how hard it was going to be...')
And though Ellen initially had her novel planned out she remained 'open-minded to change – things call your attention as you go along.' Which sounds a lot like truth to us.
Go where there characters are going
There is no one like Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott – and it is precisely this that makes us love her.
It takes a Kelleigh to write something like Swan Song, the soaring, fictionalisation of Truman Capote and his female cohort, affectionally known as the Swans. 'I knew what I wanted to write was very unique,' she told us, after an engrossing reading.
And with such rich characters to drawn upon, it is no wonder that she simply followed their voices, though this wasn't without its challenges. 'Do you stick with your plan or go where the characters are going?' posited Kelleigh.
The answer was worthy of Truman himself. 'It comes down to your moral barometer... How much of other people are we allowed to use?'
WHAT a night. Thank you so much to our incredible authors: Molly, Luke, Anbara, Ellen and Kelleigh. Thanks, too, to our fantastic photographer for the night Isis Pealing – do check out more of her work here – and to Clapham Books for supplying us with copies on the night. Most of all thanks to you, our brilliant Riff Raff audience, to the stalwarts and the first timers alike.