On the 10th November, day three of the 2016 Nottingham Festival of Literature, I attended an event featuring Jenn Ashworth in conversation with Jon McGregor. Taking place at THiNK in Cobden Chambers in the city centre, the evening was introduced by Matthew Welton, a professor in creative writing at the University of Nottingham.
The evening began with Jenn Ashworth reading the opening pages from her fourth novel, Fell, which was published earlier this year by Sceptre. This was a particularly captivating reading which piqued my interest with its haunting, unsettling tone. From this Jenn and Jon began to discuss how Jenn approached Jon to seek writing advice. I was interested to hear that the day of this event was the first time the two writers had met in person, having known each other through social media and email for a couple of years. In October 2014, as a fan of his work, Jenn contacted Jon for guidance whilst writing her latest novel. Having spent years on her manuscript, but feeling it was not quite at where she wanted to be, she sent Jon an email to enquire about mentoring, to seek a ’bracing critique’ of her work.
The email correspondence between the two formed the next part of the evening’s events as Jenn and Jon took it in turns to read out their email exchanges in relation to Fell. This re-enactment was enjoyable and humorous whilst providing fascinating insight into the ‘behind the scenes’ process of writing a book. It was interesting to hear how years before the book hit the shelves; Jenn was still tinkering with the manuscript, and with Jon’s help, ironed out the parts that didn’t work and established the parts that did. This email exchange raised some interesting points about writers supporting other writers, asking questions about what they hope to achieve from their book, settling any anxieties and offering constructive criticism. And with Jenn not knowing Jon personally, it was the perfect opportunity to seek an impartial critique and guidance from one reader and writer to another. And Jenn too has provided support as a mentor to three different writers, so it was great to hear of this network of authors helping one and other with their work.
From this point Jon began to ask further questions regarding the themes in Fell and how the idea for the novel was born. Jenn described a number of questions and thoughts that she wanted to explore and she described how a ‘scene opened up like an accordion’. This was followed by another reading featuring a snippet taken from the aforementioned scene which again had me intrigued. Discussion into the theme continued with Fell being described as a love story, a ghost story and as being ‘miraculous realism’ with its focus being on the unexpected and the unexplained. These ‘other worldly’ elements are not commonplace in mainstream literary fiction so this was something very different for Jenn when compared to her previous works. Jon went on to talk about the collaborative nature of writing and asked further questions regarding Jenn’s inspirations and research. The evening was rounded off with a final reading from Fell before both authors signed copies of their books.
The evening with Jenn Ashworth and Jon McGregor was a thoroughly enjoyable event which provided great insight into the writing process and the importance of collaboration in helping an author and their novel be the best they can be. The evening’s events were both informative and entertaining and I am looking forward to reading some of Jenn and Jon’s work.
Find out more about Jenn and her books on her website here
Find out more about Jon and his books on his website here
Check out all the news and forthcoming events from the festival on the Nottingham Festival of Literature website