Armistead Maupin, David Nicholls et al

30 November 2010 by Jennifer

Authors speaking, other stuff about books, and some thoughts I had.

Went to a “Readers’ Day” on Saturday at Nottingham City Council House.

What sold me on the event originally was seeing that Armistead Maupin would be there – he of the groundbreaking and very readable Tales of the City and, my favourite of his, Maybe the Moon.

But after booking for the day, I thought in order to make the most of it, I’d go looking for some books by some of the other guest authors. That led me to David NichollsOne Day, which I turned out to like as well.

So there I was in a somewhat chilly ballroom in Nottingham’s Council House on Saturday morning, after the first snowfall here of the winter.

(As an aside, I’ll add that to the best of my recollection, this is the first time I’ve ever been into the Council House, despite living in Nottingham on & off since 1982! I quite liked the architecture of it.)

Armistead Maupin

Armistead Maupin was interviewed by Greg Woods,

Greg Woods interviews Armistead Maupin.

then read from his latest book Mary Ann In Autumn and took questions.

Armistead Maupin speaking at Nottingham Council House, 27 Nov 2010.

Lovely bloke and very entertaining. He describes himself as a storyteller, and it’s true. If he comes to speak anywhere near you, I’d say go if you can.

I’m not sure if he put it in exactly these words, but I had a real sense of how much his art is also activism. In answering questions, he alluded to the countless people over the years who’ve told him how his writing made a difference to them. A simple example he mentioned was of a teenager who was encouraged to come out to his parents by knowing that the parents enjoyed AM’s books. AM also mentioned that the death of Tales of the City character Jon was the first ever death from AIDS in fiction – I hadn’t known that.

I especially appreciated hearing him talk about his feisty, charismatic friend Tammy, the inspiration for Maybe The Moon. She knew he was writing it, and came to stay with him for a few days so that they could talk about her life. But she didn’t live to see the book finished.

Another bit I was pondering afterwards was when someone asked AM if he might one day write about his time in the Navy. He said that’d be unlikely, and explained how he likes to write of the present time as he lives it: expressing things he’s thinking about & feeling at that time, with his books intentionally “dated” to the era when they were written. There was a funny story about his editor warning him that a particular musician he’d named was “kind of last year” and AM replying along the lines of “Yes, that’s because the book is set last year!”

Book swopping

At lunchtime there was a “Book Swop”. I’d forgotten to bring a book for that, but discovered we’d each been given one (different ones) in the bags we were given on arrival, along with timetable and feedback form. I didn’t especially fancy my freebie, so handed that in and had a rummage.

I was just thinking maybe there wasn’t anything I wanted, when I suddenly happened upon a copy of David Almond’s Skellig. I’d heard on the grapevine recently that one of the characters in Skellig is a non-schooling young person and (amazingly enough) not a lonely deprived cliché wrapped in cotton-wool. So I’d been curious about that book and thinking I must read it soon. Could have got it from the library, but if it lives up to the description I read, it’s one I’ll be happy to have on hand for lending out. So that felt like a lucky moment.


After lunch I went to the session on “Making books talk”: “Clipper Audio’s Andrew Treppass and Gordon Griffin, actor and narrator of over 500 novels, talk about the world of the spoken word and reveal how a first-class audiobook is created.

I never usually listen to audiobooks; just occasionally I might hear part of one, if someone puts a children’s one on in their car while I’m getting a lift. Myself I love reading from real actual books, and I just don’t think audiobooks would be as good, for me. For one thing, I suspect I’d start to feel impatient at the much slower pace.

On the other hand, more and more lately I’ve been listening to podcasts and spoken word MP3s of other kinds, and thinking about perhaps at some point creating some. So I was intrigued about the mechanics and process of making audiobooks and thought I might learn something. In fact, I mostly learned that it works rather similarly to how I imagined, which was reassuring, if not exciting.

Gordon G did a few readings as part of this presentation, including a moving extract from Billy Elliott (he narrated the Dad’s chapters in the audiobook of that) which brought a tear to my eye.

And I got some mending done while listening – bonus :-)

David Nicholls

Next up was David Nicholls, confessing rather charmingly to being nervous at the large audience. Perhaps because of initial nerves, the bit he read from the book was rather on the fast side, “killing the laughs” as comedians say. But come the chat, he seemed to relax into it.

I micro-blogged about One Day already. It’s a food-for-thought-y book which anyone might appreciate, but for me what stood out about it is its depiction of a time and culture I lived through myself. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book which felt so much as if it might have been written by someone I knew. (Not at all to my surprise, it turns out DN is similar in age both to me and to his characters in the book.)

[I’ll also mention here that one of my favourite bits of that book is the tiny bit about the “cigarette girl”‘s life when she’s not being a cigarette girl. I wouldn’t say it was irrelevant to the main narrative: the reader was thereby given a telling contrast to the more major character’s perception of her. But fictional women in menial &/or sexualised roles often remain clichés or tokens throughout a book however big a role they play in the plot, and her plot role was pretty tiny. So that momentary sidelight into her background (entirely believable to me) was an unexpected and pleasing extra dimension.]

DN wrote and edited screenplays before he wrote a book, and he’s written the screenplay for One Day (filmed this year, editing yet to come). He said some interesting stuff about turning books into films.

Someone asked him about the differences between books & screenplays, and he said one of them is that in a book you can just write “It was raining” and not give it another thought. If you write that in a screenplay, you have to hire a rain machine, and actual people have to stand around getting wet, and it costs twenty thousand pounds! Funny but true. He also talked about the collaborative nature of film: potentially frustrating, yet can also be enlivening and sparky if you’ve got the right people around you to bounce off. I’ve read various people on the frustrations of that situation, and an appreciation of its collaborative nature doesn’t seem to be so common.

David Nicholls speaking at Nottingham Council House, 27 Nov 2010.

Interestingly, DN was a bit self-deprecating about his tendency to throw in cultural references (like the Nelson Mandela postcard in the extract he read), and he said the original draft had many more of them than the final book. I think he said he thought of it as a sort of shortcut, and indicative of laziness of himself as a writer – or something like that.

I was pondering this on the way home, and wondering where he’d draw the line, and wondering whether that overlaps into the sense of time and place that was part of what I liked about the book. OK, there’s a difference between “indicating time & place by multifarious ways both subtle and obvious” and just namechecking something. And obviously some of the cultural context I enjoyed was the former and not what he was expressing doubts about. (Theatre In Education and Alternative Cabaret both feature in a small way in the plot, and for me they’re both rather “Proustian Madeleine”-esque themes* – “Hello Late 1980s!”) But namechecks do contribute to the ambiance. I wonder if DN was in the room when AM was talking about the “writing done in & of a particular era” thing? I’m intrigued by comparing the different things they said around that.

* Disclaimer: I have not read yer actual original Proust :-)


Thanks to the contributors, and to the Nottingham library people who set up this rewarding day. It lived up to my expectations… though I may consider bringing a hot water bottle next time :-)

Here, have an index…
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Armistead Maupin
Book swopping
David Nicholls

2 thoughts on “Armistead Maupin, David Nicholls et al”

  1. Hi, just random browsing, interesting post. You might be interested to know David Almond has also written a prequel to Skellig called My Name is Mina, telling the background to the story of the home educated character. All his books are well worth a read, not just for teenagers.
    best wishes

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