Daunt Books situated in Marylebone High Street is probably one of London’s most treasured bookshops. Located in an original Edwardian bookshop with long oak galleries and large skylights, the bookshop is also the location of the Daunt Books Festival which over the 10th and 11th March plays host to a series of talks and interviews with some of the biggest names in the book world. This year, the list includes Booker prize-winning author Howard Jacobson exploring The Merchant of Venice , BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz considering How to Think Like an Artist and Simon Sebag Montefiore investigating the dynasty of The Romanovs.
However, the first event of the festival involved the author Max Porter whose critically acclaimed debut novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers was considered one of the literary highlights of 2015. In front of a packed audience, Porter discussed his life and career in the publishing world and some of the inspirations behind his debut novel with Laura Macaulay, publisher of the Daunt Books imprint.
Max Porter is a senior editor at Granta Books and had previously managed an independent bookshop , he was also the editor of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries which won the 2013 Man Booker Prize.
It was Porter’s publishing background that formed the first part of the interview, the author had not only enjoyed his time as a bookseller but had believed it had given him considerable insights into the publishing and bookselling worlds. His time at the independent bookshop illustrated the importance of developing relationships between bookseller and customer which the larger and complex booksellers like Amazon cannot hope to replicate. The importance of maintaining the ‘personal’ approach influences his time at Granta who Porter considers adopt a sort of ‘1950’s model of publishing’ where the relationship between the publisher and the author is vitally important.
When asked about his debut novel, Grief is the Thing with Feather, the author considered that despite his experience of working in the publishing world, his main aim was to write the story for himself. The novel is centred around two young boys who are forced to face the tragedy of their mother’s sudden death. Their Ted Hughes obsessed father is fascinated by the poet’s masterpiece Crow and gradually a Crow becomes one of the main characters of the book.
Porter pointed out that The Crow in the novel is not Hughes’ Crow, but rather a cameo of a literary character that develops it own personality throughout the book. The Crow is attracted to the grieving family and considers ways to help the healing process. Fundamental to the book is the question of grief and Porter agreed that his own biography informs the book when he was dealing with his own grief and the issues of parenthood and the different roles people take on as one grows older. Ted Hughes was not the only literary figure that influenced the book, the American poet, Emily Dickinson’s use of grief as a multifaceted experience provided the possibility to explore different avenues of grief.
When Grief is the Thing with Feathers was published, it was considered a prose/poetry hybrid and did not appear to fit easily in any particular genre. Porter considered there was too much specialisation in publishing which assumes that readers can be slotted into neat little boxes. In many cases, people create their own reading map which can cover many disparate genres.
The life of the author and the reader is usually a solitary one, therefore those who attend literary events such the Daunt Books Festival can learn an awful lot from each other. The Daunt festival with a wide range of subjects and participants offers something of interest for almost everyone in a relaxed and attractive environment.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Daunt Book website here
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