EIBF Review: Pippa Goldschmidt and Alice Thompson 20/08/13
Drive and determination are common topics at literary events, yet a Tuesday afternoon session unearthed some memorable insights. Dubbed ‘When Ambition Gets The Better Of Us’, Pippa Goldschmidt read from her debut work The Falling Sky (Freight Books) and Alice Thompson chatted about her novel Burnt Island (Salt Publishing). Journalist Sarah Crown from the Guardian had a inquisitive manner and managed to draw parallels between the two writers who seemed, at first glance, not to have much in common besides age and gender.
Goldschmidt’s novel about a young astronomer has been reviewed in the New Scientist as well as lesbian magazine Diva, an unusual combination of review sources. A former academic at Edinburgh’s Royal Observatory and London’s Imperial College, Goldschmidt’s experiences inspired her character’s ground-breaking discovery. Goldschmidt has a wise and sensitive way of reading: ‘Jeanette may as well be invisible. She’s standing on the stage in the auditorium in front of about two hundred other astronomers… But she can tell no one’s listening’.
The theme of ambition rolled along in Thompson’s excerpt in Burnt Island, which sounded colourful and ironic. Thompson’s sixth novel focuses on Max, a writer who has sacked his agent and his publisher due to their disloyalty. He has travelled to a blustery island in order to pen his legacy but is filled with doubt: ‘What would he do to make it, what would it take?’
As the event continued, it became clear these authors write from experience. An astronomer pondering astronomy, a novelist satirising other novelists. But this fact helped solidify the authors’ identities. On the question about the link between science and writing, Goldschmidt stated that in fiction ‘you set up the laws of your own universe’. Thompson, who wrote her Ph.D. on Henry James, stated that her book was ‘a homage to the act of creativity’.
Though time passed swiftly, the cramped venue made for tricky viewing. Called the Writer’s Retreat (or rather, the Writer’s Re-Tweed, considering the weird circle of tweed bags on the walls), the authors’ stage should have been elevated. The writers were mere talking heads above the audiences’ own craniums. It’s a good thing the book festival is all about listening, not looking.