Samantha Harvey and Jake Wallis Simons

Right; a weekend to recover and we can carry on telling you what happened during the Festival. Here’s how the chat between literary fiction authors Samantha Harvey and Jake Wallis Simons went down at the Cafe of Good Hope:

L-R: host Rachel Holdsworth, Jake Wallis Simons, Samantha Harvey

All proceeds from tonight’s event will go to the Jimmy Mizen Foundation: http://www.jimmymizen.org/ The café we’re in was set up in Jimmy’s memory.

Tonight’s event is underway, with Booker longlisted novelist Samantha Harvey (The Wilderness) & Jake Wallis Simons (The English German Girl)

Harvey introduces her book, The Wilderness, which is about an Alzheimer’s sufferer called Jake. The book’s style mirrors Jake’s mental state

Harvey reads a short extract from her book, giving a taste of how it works, as conflicting segments of narrative spark confusion on the page

Harvey describes her book as a mystery, as readers must piece together the story from the suffering protagonist’s (mis)remembered fragments.

Harvey talks about the research she did: she did meet some Alzheimer’s sufferers but didn’t interview them or directly use their experiences

Harvey describes herself as “someone who’s interested in how humans work” and says the research into Alzheimer’s is therefore v interesting

Jake Wallis Simons introduces his book, The English German Girl, centred on a Jewish girl in Germany, starting as Hitler comes to power.

The central character in Simons’ novel travels to England on the Kindertransport – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindertransport

Host Rachel is amazed how detailed the novel is in its coverage of contemporary Berlin and the Kindertransport. Lots of research evident!

Simons was also drawn to the Kindertransport as a topic because there were so many people who’d been involved still around to interview.

It’s clear Simons wanted to be as accurate as possible as he describes how much material he’s read, archives he’s visited etc

Most of the secondary characters in The English German Girl are actually real people who existed, and a glossary at the back gives more info

Simons says it’s useful, actually: without the readers knowing about the Holocaust, it would almost have been too harrowing for them to read

Harvey agrees: since we know her protagonist will die, the ending is clear and she’s able to focus her efforts on getting there well

In Harvey’s next novel, she tries to imagine Socrates living in the modern world – “quite a domestic tale”, apparently!

Talking about person and tense now. Simons doesn’t mind present tense in books: “it’s just like past tense, but a bit sooner”.

Both books in 3rd person, despite clear central character. Harvey says she’s a bit of a first-person-phobic: “I should probably get over it”

Despite both books covering potentially depressing topics these are quite life-affirming books; Simons liked Kindertransport for that reason

Simons’ next novel, a thriller, is v different from his last; so much so he’s dropped the “Wallis” part of his name to avoid disappointment!

Q&A time. What reactions have authors had from people with personal experiences of Alzheimer’s or Kindertransport?

Audience member says she’s glad she came along tonight as hearing Harvey talk about & read from the book has reassured her about reading it.

Simons was touched when daughter of people who came here on Kindertransport said his book helped her understand what her parents experienced

Harvey’s also had good feedback, but does recount the tale of someone who didn’t think she had the right to write about Alzheimer’s

Audience member with familial Alzheimer’s experience praises the question “What reason to be anxious?” in the extract Harvey read earlier.

Moving exchange between author and would-be reader, who’s started the book a number of times but sees it as an “unexploded bomb” by her bed.

Tonight’s keen audience has enough questions to overrun by 10min before Rachel brings another enjoyable, thought-provoking event to a close.

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