Making an author cry is probably not the best way to make the most of my first ‘Meet the authors’ event. No doubt I will get blacklisted in future, such a shame as it was all going so well. Although I am in my comfort zone at the Wellcome Collection, which I have visited many times, I am surrounded by book bloggers, so this is a little bit strange. We are a similar but different breed and I observe and question my fellow attendees with a scientific detachment and curiosity.
I am really privileged to hear four of the six Wellcome Book Prize shortlisted authors talk about their books. The Wellcome Book Prize is open to fiction and non-fiction and £30,000 pounds goes to the winning book with a theme of medicine, health or illness. The aim is to promote public debate and interest in these topics.
Now I love reading, but I am not a hugely prolific reader, three kids and being permanently tired has put paid to that. I also have a weird quirk where if I start a book I have to finish it (even if it is terrible and takes me forever). I like to think I read quite widely, the last few books I have read include Mary Beard’s ‘SPQR’ (a lovely bit of Roman history), ‘His Monkey Wife’, a 1930s novel by John Collier (so, so odd) and a modern gothic horror, ‘The Loney’ by Michael Hurley. I have never felt the urge to blog about the books I read, it is purely for pleasure, I don’t want to turn it into ‘work’. I don’t want to be taking notes, I am never going to be a ‘book blogger’ I don’t have the skill for it, so this blog will have to take a bit of a different direction.
The Wellcome Book Prize caught my attention because when the shortlist was announced I was already half way through one on the list – Neurotribes by Steve Silberman. Contrary to everything I have said above I have written a little about this book on a previous post on autism. It is a huge book in the autism community, it has already won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction in 2015. Quite a few people I know who don’t have a direct autism connection are reading it, which also says a lot for its reach and importance. It is easy to read and informative, a history of autism that means a lot to me because it sets my experiences into context and gives me a lot of hope for the future.
Having read Neurotribes I was intrigued to see how it stacked up against the other entries. It was exciting to be invited along to hear four of the authors talk about their books, but it was also slightly odd as I haven’t read their books yet. At the time of the event I was halfway through Amy Liptrot’s ‘The Outrun’. I haven’t been to too many author talks, a long time ago I heard Stephen King talk and last year as part of “City Read London” I heard Ben Aaronovitch talk about his Rivers of London series of books.
I guess I don’t really want to meet the author, I want the book and the story to exist in my head. I want the author nameless and faceless. The words they write are my way in. This has been such an interesting experiment because now I am reading books with the author in mind. Having listened to them talk; the process, the person and the outcome are inextricably linked.
I am coming to the realisation that I am more and more fascinated by the process of writing. I write blogs not books, but now I write a lot, a few years ago I never wrote a thing. Sometimes it is easy and it flows, sometimes it is hard and takes lots of effort. Some blogs lots of people read, and some blogs not so much. Some blogs are personal and I always seem to leave them in draft for a few days before putting them out there. Now hearing these authors talk of their work, what they think or don’t think about the reader, how these books came into existence is fascinating to me.
I am struck by Amy Liptrot when I first see her, I am bang in the middle of her book ‘The Outrun’, in my head I have a picture of her but she is not what I imagined at all. Her book is on addiction and redemption in nature, three words that hardly sum it up at all. I guess it is about being lost in many senses,in many different places, but how that can sometimes be your salvation. It couldn’t be more different to Neurotribes. Amy is tall and blonde and ethereal, she is all juxtapositions, she seems fragile but from her words she is strong. Her book is so personal it is quite strange meeting her in person when she has opened up a chapter of her life to all who would read it.
Amy makes a point of saying that she must clarify that it is her book on the shortlist, not the person. It must be hard when the lines become blurred. The authors who have both written a memoir, Amy and Cathy talk of whether it is bravery or a recklessness that allows them to put the painful, private and inner self out there. They talk about how friends and relatives have reacted and how strangers contact them saying how the books have touched and resonated with them. Cathy gets it spot on when she says she sees her books as a conversation with the reader.
After listening to each author I get to ask a question, I ask what it means to be nominated for the Wellcome Book Prize? and it is at this point Suzanne O’Sullivan wells up. Her book ‘It’s all in your head’ is on the power of the mind to control and experience physical disability. It means a lot to her to be nominated, a huge honour. As a consultant neurologist she has spoken of the duty of care she has to her patients to represent them honestly and fairly.
I am a few pages from the end of Suzanne’s book and I can see now why it all means so much to her. Her book is not only about the patients who struggle against medical and societal perception of mental well being and illness but also an eye opening portrayal of the dilemmas doctors face everyday, and the incredibly difficult decisions they make. It is part history, part doctor-patient confession and an attempt to set mental health on a par with physical health. I feel like having a cry with her.
I am very nearly three books into the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist, with three books left to go. Each has been, so far, incredibly different. I have not a clue how the judges can put one above another. I have never attempted to read a whole shortlist before and it has been refreshing and challenging and so enlightening to read so many different books. I can see now that I may have thought I read widely but I really haven’t at all. Reading these books has been food for my soul and I can’t wait to start the next one.
For more on the Wellcome Book Prize please see the website – http://wellcomebookprize.org
The winner of the Wellcome Book Prize will be announced on the 25th April 2016.
For a recommendation of a ‘proper’ book blogger please take a look at – Food for Bookworms – http://www.foodforbookworms.com