6th October, 2018
Palace Green Library
Review by James Robson
A.J. Pearce and Anne Youngson are two debut novelists whom I recently had the pleasure of meeting at an ‘Literary Letters’-themed event for the Durham book festival. 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, an agony aunt at a women’s magazine. As Emmy was drawn into the complex lives of the people writing letters to Mrs Bird, I, too, was drawn into the developing friendships and characters which Pearce has crafted so well.
Youngson’s novel Meet Me at the Museum also deals with correspondence and correspondents. The letters in her book 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 is reflected in Tina’s, 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.
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 novel, which includes many relatable issues, including failing friendships and family conflict.
Youngson’s novel details the epistolary relationship of two bewildered characters, although the narrative centres on Denmark’s Tollund Man, who is often the topic of discussion between the main characters. Youngson herself visited the Tollund man only after the book was published, which shows how impressive the research both she and Pearce did when writing their novels was. For her book, Pearce relied heavily on research and accounts from older relatives.
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 for a PhD.
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.