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Fay Weldon at the Petworth Festival Literary Week
4th November 2018
We recently had the huge pleasure of hearing Fay Weldon talk at the Petworth Festival Literary Week.
Fay might not be best known for novels with a strong sense of place, but hopefully TripFiction members will nevertheless be interested to hear a little more about this revered and prolific writer, and her latest novel After the Peace.
In conversation with the Guardian’s Claire Armitstead, the famously feminist writer Fay Weldon regaled the audience with mischievous insights into her personal and writing lives. And nearing the end of her 9th decade, she shows little sign of losing that wicked sense of humour and hunger for literature.
After the Peace is the fifth and final book in Fay’s Dilberne novels, spanning the entire 20th century. She talked about how we’re living in a vastly different world now, with totally different ways of communicating. ‘After the Peace may tell an outwardly frivolous story, but it tracks momentous events and times in our recent history.’
How many parents does it take to make a baby? In the case of Rosalind Melrose Smithson it took four: one birth mother; one legal father; one interfering neighbour and one turkey baster filled with the defrosted essence of an anonymous donor.
Or not so anonymous as it turned out. For donor no. 116349, ‘6ft 1in, blue eyes, blond hair, BA (Oxon), action man…’ is the 9th Earl of Dilberne, who gave his seed back in 1979 as a stripling of twenty-two, and has now conceived a daughter – unknowingly – at the riper age of forty-two.
As they say, the truth will out. And what will our Rozzie do when she finds out about her patrimony? All we know is that as a true Millennial, she will not take it lying down…
Taking us back in her own history, Fay told how how she lived in an all-female house when she was expecting her first child, and was unwilling to marry the child’s father. A few years later, she started working in the advertising industry, ‘which is where I learned to tell stories.’ Fay famously promoted the ‘go to work on an egg‘ ad, but her bosses and the client rejected the slogan ‘vodka gets you drunker quicker‘, despite the writer even now protesting: ‘well it’s true, isn’t it?‘
From here, she graduated to writing for TV, including the first episode of the famous Upstairs, Downstairs series. And her first novel – The Fat Woman’s Joke – published in 1967, was followed by 36 more. ‘Well, I thought I had to write one a year.‘ Her best known novels may well be ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’ (1983) and ‘The Cloning of Joanna May’ (1989), but you’ll find some recurring themes – including feminism, science fiction, genetics, astrology, therapy – in her substantial canon of work, that underly her own interests and life.
Her own earliest literary influence was Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit‘, and ‘anything by H. G. Wells….but essentially I read everything.’
Fay is also a devoted creative writing tutor, and has just published ‘Why Will No-One Publish My Novel?‘. She says ‘writing is a formula, anyone can do it’, but few have delivered the craft as well as the remarkable Fay Weldon has done over the last 50 years.
Andrew for the TripFiction Team
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