Jeanette Winterson in conversation with Audrey Niffenegger: Manchester Literature Festival at Martin Harris Centre, October 13th, reviewed by Lauren Hill
Tonight’s event, held at the Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, was a discussion between acclaimed novelist Jeanette Winterson (author of such works as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – 1985 – and Sexing the Cherry – 1989) and Audrey Niffenegger. As an avid fan of Niffenegger’s novels, I was extremely excited about the opportunity to hear her speak on her inspirations and creative process, while less-than-secretly harbouring hopes for a snippet of novel number three (alas…).
Niffenegger is best known as the mastermind behind the 2003 bestseller, The Time Traveler’s Wife, in which she explores the concept of a woman whose time runs linear, and who perpetually waits for her love to return from his time travelling exploits. Less well known is the 2009 novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, set against the backdrop of London’s Highgate Cemetery. Many, however, are unaware that Audrey’s work began with illustrated books and graphic novels, including The Three Incestuous Sisters (2005); The Night Bookmobile(2010), which was originally serialised in The Guardian; and Niffenegger’s 2013 offering, The Raven Girl.
The discussion kicked off with an introduction by the Centre for New Writing’s own Geoff Ryman, who described Her Fearful Symmetry as “delicious”, and Niffenegger’s style in general as “fantastical, but not fantasy”. Personally, I don’t think there could be a better summary of Audrey’s work.
Walking onto the stage, Jeanette and Audrey were greeted by a round of applause, which I’ve yet to see at another Manchester Literature Festival event. This, coupled with the palpable buzz in the surprisingly mixed crowd (which I would liken to an over-eager book club, despite Niffenegger’s aversion to visiting them), speaks volumes about Audrey’s reputation as a spectacularly gifted author.
What made tonight’s event so interesting was the way in which Jeanette and Audrey complimented each other. Humour bounced back and forth between the pair almost seamlessly, raising many a laugh from the audience while discussing topics such as the pair of skeletons which stand at either side of Audrey’s drawing table (Fondly known as Cecil and Nigel), and Audrey’s initial distaste for E-books (“What is this E-book thing? I do not like it!”), and later conversion to them.
Also touched upon were Niffenegger’s love of 19th century literature, and a feeling that she belongs in another time to our own. The greatest quote of the night came when Jeanette asked Audrey to define creativity, and received the reply: “Freedom. Creativity is the ability to do what you want to do, what you need to do. It is intellectual boundlessness. Everyone is creative.”
Well said, Audrey. I thoroughly enjoyed this event, and look forward to future opportunities to hear Niffenegger speak about her work. As for fellow fans, I discovered that Audrey has committed to a date for the release of a sequel to The Time Traveler’s Wife. 2018 seems an age away right now, but considering the skill which seeps from every page of her novels, Audrey is not far wrong to call it ‘right around the corner’.