Janice Galloway in conversation with Zoe Venditozzi, 21st October, 18.00
In line with Janice Galloway’s comments on punctuation in answer to a question from her audience, and in her honour, I won’t be using quotation marks in this blog – which proved harder than I imagined!
The third event of The Dundee Literary Festival 2015 starts with a question from Janice. What does Dundee mean…surely more than Jute , Jam and…? Answers are shouted out.
A state of mind!
When Janice, a former schoolteacher, was at school herself, it was the teachers who got on her nerves, not the other weans – they were always the source of so much joy, especially when in their teenage years. She recalls a competition run across North Lanarkshire schools to make the Region sound more dynamic and exciting. The eventual winning slogan, as voted for by the senior classes was:
NORTH LANARKSHIRE – NOT AS SHITEY AS YOU’D THINK.
We are now firmly ensconced in Gallowayland, as she proceeds to regale us with the tale of her journey to Dundee from Uddingston – hoping to have time for a bubble bath and a pie from room service at her hotel on arrival, neither of which happened, as her copy of Jellyfish (the book of short stories she is here to read from and discuss) was stolen from her bag on the train, and the taxi which had been booked to bring her to the Bonar Hall never appeared. Instead she hailed a passing cab with a driver aff shift. The west coast camaraderie won him over; he made an exception for a fellow westie and took her to the Hall for free.
So now she’s here with us, and tells us that the best bit about writing is when she stops, and how her stories start by themselves, inspired by a scent, a memory, something she sees or hears: something visceral.
Seamlessly, and with the able and very finely pitched interviewing style of Zoe Venditozzi (she allows Janice the time to talk without interruption, but also asks some insightful and humorous guiding questions) the talk turns to memoir/anti-memoir and the way we remember the past, which Janice says is never static. It’s like looking at old photos being a different experience from when you were actually in the moment that they were taken.
Her writing is all about capturing something imagined from a real experience, regardless of how factually or inaccurately it is remembered and written on the page. It’s all about the personal, as she mentions you come with something, you are not empty; a human child comes into life with preferences for all sorts of things.
She reads from Greek, one of the stories in her new collection. I have already reviewed Jellyfish and as I mentioned – there is not a weak link in the collection but this is the only disappointment of the evening for me; I had hoped that Janice would read one of the stand out stories I mention in my review , which I would love to hear in her voice. No matter; her voice drenches the hour she spends with us, and I don’t need to be spoiled further, like too much deliciousness or gorgeousness , it needs to be rationed.
Janice shares some details of her writing and editing processes, and talks of the feminine and masculine forms of literature – a novel is a big hard thing and a short story is the female form. Some of her stories take hours to write and some take twenty years. Then there’s advice on style – see it purely and clearly with few adjectives; we need to do this to let readers in.
Janice talks about the human failings we all fall prey to; the self-critic on her shoulder, the product of yesterday’s six-hour writing session being thrown out because it was crap, putting your heart and soul into a piece of work and it’s gibberish. If something’s going badly then don’t crack on, go and do something else which is not writing.
She finishes by answering questions from the audience, one about Literary Fiction which she describes as a not for profit sloooooow-burner, and the other explaining why she doesn’t always use quotation marks as they impart a completeness, confidence and certainty which her characters and most frail humans very rarely possess.
And the hour is up. Gallowayland has held us in its arms, filled our hearts with hope, informed our craft and has been open and truthful to the very marrow of its being. Thank you, Janice Galloway for letting us in.