The last day of the festival was bookended by the writing of Maggie O’Farrell.
I started the day participating in a reading group with a difference – one for which no pre-reading was required! Sample texts were provided and read to provide a basis for discussion. The session on Maggie O’Farrell began with the opening chapter of Hamnet. Thereafter, co-founders of Open Book, Marjorie and Claire, helped the group appreciate O’Farrell’s skill. In particular the amount of information that is transferred implicitly, and the subtle inference of growing menace. (Go on, re-read it. What surprised me was how much I, as a reader, take this subconcious information exchange for granted.) Further passages discussed were taken from I Am, I Am, I Am, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, and a second passage from Hamnet.
There were 15 attendees in the group, many O’Farrell aficionados, myself a mid-grade O’Farrellite, not having read everything she’s written, and one person , for whom the session served as an introduction to the writer: the group in itself demonstrating how effective the Open Book model is. Everyone could contribute (and did).
This was the first of two exclusives to be enjoyed that day, for the group was held in the Green Room: the enclave, normally accessible only to authors and chairpeople preparing for their events. To the right are Marjorie and Claire looking like cats who have just lapped the cream. (Which, of course, they had, for this was a very knowledgeable and chatty group of readers.)
Open Book run over 1200 shared reading and creative writing classes throughout Scotland. No in-person events near me, but there are some online groups. All shared reading groups discuss an extract from a book and a poem. Now as I don’t have the vocabulary to review poetry, I might give that a try …
And so to the main business of the day, the largest audience I was part of (almost but not quite a sell-out at Central Hall), and a world premier: the launch of Maggie O’Farrell’s latest novel: The Marriage Portrait. This event also gave us the best moment of the festival. Not when Maggie O’Farrell walked onto the stage. Nor when she read the opening chapter. I defy anyone to identify a more classic moment than when Damien Barr pointed out that she had come dressed as her book cover!
The marriage at the centre of this novel is the short marriage of Lucretia De’ Medici and Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara. Lucretia was 15 when she married, 16 when she died. The question is whether her death was natural or otherwise. I want to write about the other side of history, said O’Farrell. Lucretia, the 5th child of 12, was, like Agnes in Hamnet, overlooked and underloved. To underline her point she told of her visit to Lucretia’s grave. She was greeted with incredulity at the Corpus Domini Monastery. Apparently no-one has ever asked to visit it.
Well, 461 years after her untimely death, Lucretia’s time has come. I doubt she’ll remain overlooked and underloved after the world (myself included) has read O’Farrell’s novel. Of course, I came home with a copy (unsigned, couldn’t face the signing queue).
All in all, this was a fabulous end to my in-person EIBF 2022. The event is available to watch online until the end of September, as are multiple others that I couldn’t attend live. No prizes for guessing how I’ll be spending September. Long live the hybrid format!