In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the word of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.
Photo by Caroline Forbes
I first discovered Helen Dunmore as a young teen with her collection of short stories ‘Love of Fat Men’. I can’t really remember any of the stories themselves, but I do remember being transfixed by the writing, which was sensual and elegant and probably far too old for me. When I was a little older I read Burning Bright, and properly fell in love with her. The story of a sixteen year old run away, abused by her much older boyfriend, who ultimately forms a strange friendship with Enid, a sitting tenant in the house she is kept in. I remember reading her descriptions of Enid, an elderly lady, in the bath and Nadine’s body and becoming aware that actually older people have bodies, and feelings, and we are all human and touch is the same or different for everyone and how marvellous and extraordinary that is and isn’t it amazing the feeling of breath.
Helen Dunmore is a naturally gifted writer who can turn her hand seamlessly to any genre, any form. She wins poetry prizes anonymously, writes YA, young children’s books, new introductions to classic texts, historical fiction, fiction about grief, fiction about dubious sexuality, horror, romance, everything.
She is also incredibly pleasant, knowledgeable, and from Yorkshire, and I therefore love and admire and kind of want to be her. I’ve seen her speak before at the Ilkley Lit Fest, and was lucky enough to interview her on the publication of her latest book The Greatcoat, which is a spooky short read perfect for a cold night in front of the fire, and she was entertaining and witty on both of these occasions.
Helen Dunmore was also the first recipient of the Orange Prize (now the Woman’s Prize for Fiction) for A Spell of Winter, which is truly creepy, and always praises the prize and what it has done for women’s fiction, especially in bringing new writers much needed publicity.
I love Helen Dunmore, and am really looking forward to hearing her speak. If you are new to her, there are several books I’d recommend, as well as her poetry collections (as you know, poetry ain’t my thing, but LeedsBookClub would probably do well to investigate as I know they love it).