6 October 2019
Palace Green Library
Review by Andrew Bailes
A coming together of Granta, Faber & Faber and Serpent’s Tail, Durham Book Festival’s Independent Alliance Proof Party saw poet Will Harris and novelists Ingrid Persaud and James Clarke give a sneak preview of their major projects to be released in 2020.
Chaired by Faber & Faber’s Louisa Joyner, the event started with a reading from Ingrid Persaud. While you may know Persaud for her emphatic win of the BBC’s Short Story Award in 2018, her latest project is debut novel Love After Love. Employing three distinct narrators, the novel questions our understanding of love and who we choose to give it to, no matter the hardships we face. “If you’re looking for a Mills & Boon, sorry, this isn’t the one!” Persaud jokes warmly. Her novel references themes of domestic abuse, alcoholism, and loss, in a story of three people attempting to live as a family unit. Brimming with authentic Trinidadian slang and dialect, Joyner asks how difficult it was for the writer to convey her roots for a British readership. “Very difficult,” she says. Referencing gestures like cut-eyes and the sucking of teeth, Persaud had to write around these characteristics of her Caribbean roots so that the dialogue felt natural on the page. But ultimately, Persaud points out, she does not take responsibility for writing on behalf of all Trinidadian people. By preferring to write in her own distinctive voice, she deftly tells a story about “different ways of belonging”.
Joyner herself is Persaud’s editor, and so she began to question Clarke and Harris about their own relationships with editing. “Actually, I’ve been told to rewrite a full story before,” says James Clarke, as Persaud winces at the thought. His second novel, Hollow in the Land, initially started as a group of short stories. However, as the characters of each tale became interconnected, he realised his story of a street in Lancashire created an interwoven story. With a down-to-earth realism that the North of England is so often known for, Clarke’s reading of a chapter entitled “Rosco of the Pineys” brings big laughs and poignant observations of everyday life.
A short teaser of Will Harris’s upcoming poetry collection, RENDANG, followed. Harris explained how he grew up surrounded by his father’s antiques business, where he drew inspiration and metaphors for this collection. Suitably surrounded by the artefacts of Palace Green Library, Harris stands up to read several poems from his collection, to be released in 2020. He reflects on his role as a son, his relationship with his Indonesian grandmother, and questions how we build bonds with those we love despite the barriers between us.
Moving into a casual and intimate discussion on everything from the writing process and publishing, to Keanu Reeves and Barack Obama, this independent proof party was a fitting end to a rainy but jam-packed Sunday at Durham Book Festival.
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.
Photo: Will Harris