I must confess to (shock horror) not being too aware of the works of Edna O’Brien before yesterday’s session. I went along because I knew she was a hugely popular writer, and I love to hear her speak.
It’s was a bit of a revelation, listening to her talk about her harsh childhood, her disastrous marriage, and subsequent exile to London. She admits to being “more serious about the truth as I reach my eighties”. She read us a passage from her memoirs, Country Girl, an evocative account of her earliest memories as a young girl in the house where she grew up. When reading, Edna O’Brien always wants to “enter into the mind and soul of the writer – and I want my readers to experience the same”.
Following her literary exile to London, after Ireland banned her books, she told us how it was seen as a direct betrayal of her people back home, and how difficult it was to be writing away from the sources that inform her stories. Such is her urge to write, she concludes, “if I could not write, I think I would go mad.”
Turning from the sadder episodes in her life, she spoke of the infamous parties she held at her house in London, a world away from her early years.
When asked for advice from an aspiring writer in the audience, she said: “keep reading great things, memorise what you read, be hard on yourself. In other words, it requires the dedication of a Samurai, set yourself high standards.”