I’m feeling a little bit spoilt here in Lanarkshire – 40 miles from the Edinburgh Book Festival (August) , 20 miles from Glasgow’s AyeWrite festival (February) and now only 10 miles from North Lanarkshire Libraries Words Festival (October). It’s wonderful – I suppose it goes some way towards making up for the weather!

Anyway, last Monday night saw the 3rd anniversary of the Motherwell Book Group coincide with a visit from Janice Galloway as part of the Words 2007 festival.  Free entry, I hasten to add.  The library was packed with an audience of about 100 consisting of the two Motherwell book groups, the Biro Babes, Men with Pens (these two groups of writers) and  high school students whose set text is Janice Galloway’s debut novel “The Trick Is To Keep Breathing”.

It is fair to say that Janice Galloway wowed us as she acted (not read) the opening section of “The Trick Is To Keep Breathing” and followed with a 15-minute reading from her masterpiece “Clara”.  She was also willing to share with us a few pages of her current work-in-progress ….. although she never got round to that because the audience then plied her with questions for about 90 minutes.  She was by turns

a) witty:

Q:  You have been compared to Sylvia Plath.  How do you feel about the comparison?

A:  Lucky.  I’m still here.

b) Instructive:

Q: Has the internet eased the effort required to research a novel?

A: Never research on the internet.  Stick to books.  You can be sued for inaccuracies published in books.  You’re untouchable on the web – particularly if you use wikipedia.

c) Informative

To paraphrase: “I never know where I’m going when I begin a novel.  I only know once I’ve written the first half.  Then I write the second half and once I’ve finished, I rewrite the first half because now I know what I’m doing”.

d) Disappointing!

Paraphase: “No I’m not going to write Clara II.  Clara I took six years of my life and I’m never going to do anything like that again”.

It was a fascinating event.  Informal, a mixed audience and a very, very generous author.  Much better than anything I have ever attended at the Edinburgh Book Festival  …. seriously!  In preparation I read Janice Galloway’s first 2 novels.

The Trick Is To Keep Breathing won the 1989 MIND/Allan Lane Award for its depiction of mind in turmoil, a mind cracking up.  Incidentally this extract is the one that Galloway performed for us in Motherwell.  The novel is not an easy read, nor is it comfortable but it is accomplished.  Joy (for that is the irony of the protagonist’s name) is suffering from ?.  I thought it was manic depression (for so it sounded to me).  Galloway thinks not.  Interesting how she still doesn’t specify.  She said she had reduced Joy to the absolute low:  she is bereaved (her lover has drowned), she is slowly becoming alcoholic, rapidly becoming anorexic.  Galloway asked whether there was anything else she could do to her.  The novel charts Joy’s downward spiral and forces us to examine why she continues to get out of bed every day.  As Galloway said, we’ve all been there at various times in our lives, scrambling to survive.   It’s absorbing watching what makes Joy “last” as she is slowly and inexorably stripped of all safety nets.

Foreign Parts, Galloway’s second novel, won the 1994 McVities Scottish Writer of the Year Award.  Extract here. It follows the misadventures of two friends, Rona and Cassie, as they tour the Loire Valley.  It soon becomes obvious that they irritate the living daylights out of each other and the interest lies in analysing what makes them such firm friends despite all this.  Well, the answer is forthcoming as Cassie remembers past holidays with male lovers and to be honest this novel may well appeal more to the female readership than the male.  Because Cassie’s memories contain many recognisable scenarios which I find funny.  Males readers may not!  In fact, if truth be told, at times the novel descends from humour to diatribe and is slightly disappointing in that respect.  Someone must have upset Galloway at the time she was writing this.

I reviewed Clara, Galloway’s third and most recent novel here.  I truly consider this a   masterpiece. (6 years well-spent, if you’re reading, Janice!)  It is one of my top 5 novels.  Read an extract here.

Galloway is a superlative author with 3 prizewinning novels to her name.  What is surprising is that the 4th, currently a work-in-progress, has no publisher.  Such are the hazards of being a novelist in the C21st, a time when nothing is to be taken for granted.