Glenn Patterson & David Park in conversation with Hugh Odling-Smee

honouring steinbeck

As part of our annual Steinbeck Celebration contribution to the National Steinbeck Festival 2014 orchestrated by the National Steinbeck Centre, California, we recently held An Evening with Glenn Patterson and David Park, hosted by Hugh Odling-Smee and developed with the John Hewitt Society. Duana Forrest, one of our aspiring young writers, attended the evening and here are her thoughts…

“I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession.” -John Steinbeck

As the evening began with this quotation from John Steinbeck, Belfast men and writers Glenn Patterson and David Park began their discussion on their literary work, their love of Limavady and Steinbeck, rounding it up with some candid advice on writing.

Both writers are quick to express their love of Limavady with Patterson exclaiming that ‘when I got the email, I just saw ‘Limavady’ and thought, ‘brilliant’.’ although Park humorously admitted he was slightly disappointed when he realized he wasn’t asked to speak at the main Steinbeck Festival in California!

Having new publications on the shelves this year, the pair introduced their latest work followed by reading an excerpt. Patterson’s latest novel ‘The Rest Just Follows begins in 70’s Belfast as it follows three characters, who meet in High School. Before reading a couple of pages, he discusses an issue during publication; originally wanting to call the book ‘Up’ his publishers were concerned about confusion with the Pixar film with the same title. ‘It was difficult to find a new title, especially when the original one shaped the book.’ He eventually found solace in ‘Memoir by Tracy Thorne and decided on ‘The Rest Just Follows.’

Park’s ‘The Poets Wives’ is broken into three sections focusing on three women:  Catherine Blake, the wife of William Blake, Nadezhda Mandelstam, wife of Russian poet Osip Mandelsta and the fictional character Lydia, wife of a contemporary Irish poet. After reading a few paragraphs, it’s clear his writing is on a whole other plane with a deep insight into the female mind: ‘I love writing about women, they have such a rich inner life whereas men are more reticent’. However, unlike Patterson who Park claims has an encyclopaedic mind, Park admits his dislike and struggle in writing about historical content: ‘I don’t have a precise grasp of it (history). The more you know about a historical character the less room there is for imagination.’

These two incredibly accomplished writers have one common thread in their career; John Steinbeck, who has close connections to Limavady. Park particularly has a deep connection to Steinbeck, aside from teaching ‘Of Mice and Men’ for years, declaring that the final chapter of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is one of the most powerful pieces he has ever read. ‘He gave me the ultimate kindness, he allowed me to know I wasn’t crazy or alone in this world’ and for this he has a ‘great sense of gratitude to Steinbeck.’

Finally, to all of the writers in the audience, they were generous with their advice, but did not sugar coat it. Talking about characterisation, Patterson shares his personal idea: ‘that moment when you wake up, you open your eyes and you have no idea who you are and gradually things start to come back to you. When writing a character I try to imagine what that character would think in that situation. How would they retrieve themselves?

Park also shared his advice on characterisation, which is to know the characters inside out. ‘You need to see the world through their eyes, become them. Become aware of who they are, their motivations, their actions, their imperfections. You develop a loyalty to them.’ Reminiscing about writing a bad character he confesses it was a ‘liberating experience being bad.’

Patterson recalls that every novel begins with a shiver or an excitement. However both authors are keen to emphasise that there is a lot of willpower needed and it’s not always the most enjoyable process; ‘there’s always a moment of sadness where you haven’t been able to fulfil the shiver.’ ‘You need to plod on, step by step. There are parts you will enjoy and parts you will hate and find a pain in the neck. Its manual labour, you’ve just got to keep at it’ Park added.

Patterson and Park’s honesty, light humour and immense success and talent provided Limavady with a thoroughly enjoyable and encouraging evening for any writing or literary enthusiast.

 

 

This entry was posted on May 14th, 2014 at 10:53 am by Desima

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