6th October, 2018
Palace Green Library
Review by James Robson
A.J. Pearce and Anne Youngson are two highly successful female authors whom I recently had the pleasure of meeting at a seminar for the Durham book festival. Given how intrigued I was by both of the authors’ historic novels, I was surprised to discover that both Pearce and Youngson are first-time writers, yet each write so beautifully in their own style. Pearce’s novel Dear Mrs Bird follows the life of Emmy, a serious journalist who dreams of becoming a war correspondent during WWII, but instead ends up working for Mrs Bird at a woman’s magazine. As Emmy was drawn into the complex lives of the people writing letters, I, too, was drawn into the developing friendships and characters which Pearce has crafted so well.
The theme of the evening was ‘Literary Letters’, given that Youngson’s novel Meet Me at the Museum also follows several letters. They bounce between the story’s elderly characters Tina and Anders as they share with each other their regrets in life.
Youngson, who is 70 years old, discussed her views on older age in a comic fashion, stating that she has never seen herself as elderly due to there always being somebody older than her – they are elderly, not her! Although Youngson’s positive outlook provided a cheerful atmosphere to the evening, she did mention that her own age can be reflected in her character Tina, whose loss of physical dexterity meant she couldn’t enjoy some of her most loved hobbies (such as travelling), and was unable to visit Denmark.
Despite only lasting an hour, the evening was extremely pleasant as I witnessed both authors connecting with each other on stage over their experiences of writing in a historical setting.
In A.J. Pearce’s comedic and bubbly personality was obvious as she discussed the influence behind her book, which came about when she was “eBay surfing”, and discovered a woman’s magazine from the 1940’s. This combined with her mass observations of people’s lives led to the creation of her first novel, which introduced me to many relatable issues, including failing friendships and family conflict, as well as many more.
Anne’s novel details the relationship through letters of two bewildered characters, yet the Tolland man at a museum in Denmark holds the thread of the book, which was often the topic of discussion between the main characters. Youngson herself visited the Tolland man only after the book was published, which shows how knowledgeable both she and Pearce were when writing their novels, given that Pearce was not alive during the 1940s, and relied heavily on research and accounts from older relatives.
When asked by a member of the audience what their top tips were for writing, both authors gave basic replies such as ‘Don’t give up’ or ‘just keep writing’ which is pretty cliché; however, given that it came from such successful, published authors, it actually meant a great deal to both myself and every other person in the room.
Both writers have busy schedules planned for the future, with Pearce currently working on a sequel to her debut novel Dear Mrs Bird and Youngson currently studying a PHD, which at 70 years of age is a big achievement! I wish them both the best of luck.
This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.