Friday, 1 August 2008


Thanks to writing colleague, playwright Gail Louw, my collection was chosen as the July read for her book group, and I was invited to attend the meeting at which it would be discussed.

I still find it amazing to sit in a room with seven people all of whom have bought and read my book, and to know the group is larger than that, but that some are on holiday but have also got the book - I must grow up sometime!

It was a generous and fascinating open discussion evening with loads of questions, interesting observations, gold-standard feedback.

Particularly interesting was the make up of the group: more than one social worker, one of whom worked in the adoption service locally. An adoptive parent with teenage children. Teachers. Male and female participants.

What did I take away? Golly, the mind is buzzing: but these points…
• The extraordinary affirmation that my work had seriously touched different members of the group in different ways. The emotional response was palpable, and there are no words to explain how that feels.
• How my work seems to be encapsulated, ‘timeless’ for the most part, untethered to a particular date/place, and the characters seem to transcend their own worlds. They could be anywhere, anytime.
• How differently people interpret the same sequence of events, and how you as a writer have absolutely no control over what the reader brings to the mix.
• How some readers will see ‘depressing and sadness’ where others see a balance of light and dark and hope.
• That people had their favourite characters, and talked about them as if they were real. That was extraordinary.
• That they had noticed recurring images, names, themes…. one of which I hadn’t seen myself!
• That the effect of the book can be emotionally exhausting.

The discussion included the topic of adoption, naturally. And it was great to try to recall the origin of some of the stories, as they wanted to know where this image or that image had come from.

I caught myself sounding very strange… talking about writing as though it is coming from somewhere else, not planned and controlled by me. But I know my writing friends will know what I am talking about… not the funny farm quite yet!

The view was expressed that it was a mistake to be in hardback. “I wouldn’t have bought it off my own bat and would have missed something really lovely…”

I came away feeling very affirmed as a writer, and as a person. And with the thought that is growing inside me that we have a responsibility to those who will read… and how do we manage that responsibility?

Thank you Gail, and thank you to the whole group.


Nik's Blog said...



a_j_woodhouse said...

interested that you say you think you have a responsibility to the reader. Emotionally, I can see how affecting it must be to meet the readers but I wonder about responsibility. We all, as readers, bear that ourselves. If you start to consider the reader, particularly if you start to feel morally responsible for the effect of your words, then you might self censor. And you don't know if they are being true or just responding to you, the writer, in the room with them at that moment. Maybe we do have an imaginary reader in mind when we write but there is a freedom in that.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

When I was writing that, I was confused myself, A. I am not sure what I mean,even!

It has something to do with responsibility to self, as well, and therefore 'managing' the reader/writer relationship (through the words) even though the writer has no control.

No control ... barring doing everything as well as they possibly can, that is.

I am coming back to the old adage repeated ad nauseam by my mother, and seeing that it had an application here:

'If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing well'.