Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Friday, July 13, 2012
Ways With Words 2012: Helen Dunmore reaches out in words
Orange Prize winner Helen Dunmore extols poetry, discusses her new novel The Greatcoat and talks children's fiction at the 2012 Telegraph Ways With Words Festival.
Helen Dunmore outside Dartington's Great Hall at the Telegraph Ways With Words festival in July 2012Photo: Martin Chilton
There is no doubting the versatility of Orange Prize winner Helen Dunmore, who is a poet, novelist, playwright, essayist, reviewer and author of children's fiction.
She was asked by a member of the audience at a packed Great Hall at The Telegraph Ways With Words Festival what it was like to write across so many forms. "Well, one of the many great things about children's fiction is that you get feedback on what you write," she replied. "Children will write and tell you exactly what they think of your books and they send you their school projects. Sometimes they send pictures of themselves in outfits they have made to be one of your characters. Adults are more restrained. I've yet to receive a picture of an adult dressed as one of the characters in my novels."
Her new novella is called The Greatcoat and is set in 1952, the year in which she was born in Yorkshire. The title comes from the childhood memory of sleeping under her father's old RAF coat in the cold bedrooms of pre-centrally heated Britain. Dunmore is "fascinated" by that era – a time when everyone's father had been part of the Second World War and everyone's grandfather part of the First World War.
Her own dad was one of 12 children and she wanted to explore a time when so many young men (55,000 in Bomber Command alone) had been cut down in their prime. The Greatcoat is a ghost story, set in East Riding, and is published by Hammer (of Hammer horror fame). The image of the ghost of an air man appearing at a bedroom window comes straight from something her sister had reported seeing. Dunmore, who loved The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James as a young reader, recalled that she had once been to a room that was supposedly haunted: "I was told where ghost had been seen and when I walked there I was enveloped by cold," she said. "You could feel it. This wasn't something you imagined and I felt that some past event had imprinted itself on this space, like history was echoing." The ghost in her own story is "insidious", Dunmore explained. Full story at The Telegraph