Elizabeth Buchan Evening March 2014

Report by Gill Hollands.

Bobbie Neate was introduced as an ex senior lecturer at the University of Winchester. She left to work in educational publishing and has now set up her own non-fiction business. Her new book is called Conspiracy of Secrets which is about a family tragedy and serendipity. The book took nine years to write and research, five of which were full time.

Bobbie’s reason for writing this book is because of her stepfather, Louis Thomas Stanley. He had always been very secretive about his birth and when she found a picture of Asquith and compared it to one of her stepfather, the likeness was striking. Digging deeper. she found that Asquith, who became Prime Minister in 1912, despite having seven legitimate children already, had a girl friend, Venetia Stanley, who was twenty-one at the time. Bobbie found several letters that made it clear that Asquith turned to Venetia for advice during the war. Further investigation confirmed that indeed her stepfather was the illegitimate son of Herbert Henry Asquith. For full details, see The Asquith Report.

Bobbie Neate & Elizabeth Buchan
Bobbie Neate & Elizabeth Buchan

Elizabeth Buchan was introduced as a historical writer with a double degree in history and English. She began as a blurb writer for Penguin, even writing the introduction to Peter Rabbit, and was the Fiction Editor for Random House. She writes critical reviews, is the patron of the Guildford Book Fair and the ex-chair of the Romantic Novelists Association, as well as being an RNA prize-winner with 16 titles to date. Her book Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman is now a TV movie and New York Times Bestseller. Her new book ‘I can’t begin to tell you’ comes out on 1 August.

Elizabeth started by saying what a great community, writers are. She quoted Red Smith ‘There is nothing to writing – all you do is sit at a desk and open a vein.’ She feels this is correct. However, the bald sentence leaves out the fact that you begin on a rich and fascinating journey, both physically, as she has now been all around the World, and internally, as you discover a new internal landscape; a surprising adventure.

She found being a blurb writer for Penguin, a great job; feet on the desk, reading the whole catalogue. She became a dinner party bore with all the facts she took in. Basically, she said blurb writers were pond-life who get kicked by sales, editors, marketing and authors. They took their revenge in words; e.g. if the blurb said ‘enchanting’ there was a dog in it; if it was ‘heart-warming’ there was a dog and a child; if it said ‘heart-wrenching’ they died; if it said ‘thoughtful’ it was boring; if it said ‘provocative’ it was irritating, etc. She considered blurb writing a mini art form. She did get into trouble once due to a misunderstanding and received a ‘To Whom It May Concern’ letter from a disgruntled reader whose name she had used by mistake for a dog. Even Dirk Bogarde in his writing days was upset by praise asking, ‘If I’m a writer on top form, where else do I have to go?’

Catherine King with Barbara Large
Catherine King with Barbara Large

The lesson to learn is that each word has to earn its place and be genuine, apt and fresh. With writing novels it helps to be disciplined. Search for the essence of the book before you start. Empathise with the material and be economical with the truth. Each word has to count.

The main requirement is to love what you are doing and do it with a passion, not as a grind or a chore. Keep your love for it sparkling and alive. You don’t have to travel to experience great changes. Good stories can be created just as well in a domestic setting. Be aware that you handle subjects differently as you age.

Elizabeth was recently inspired by a visit to Denmark which was invaded during the war in 6 hours and became a protectorate. When the Nazis wanted to round up all the Jews they disappeared, hidden in barns or rowed across the sound by sympathetic Danes. She was very interested in the coding and the mistakes that were made. She wondered how a psyche would cope with the violence and how you go back to normal when it’s over. War is about lies.

Finally, she offered one last anecdote about a writer who read a factual account in a local newspaper about a woman who fell under a train and a custody battle. This is what triggered Leo Tolstoy to write Anna Karenina. With that, she rested her case.

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