Edinburgh Book Festival: Janice Galloway, Sex Life & Parenthood, Review

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Janice Galloway, Jackie McGlone
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In the main Book Festival theatre the other night, a packed audience enjoyed listening to Janice Galloway in an illuminating conversation with the excellent presenter, Jackie McGlone.

As a winner of the Mind/Allen Lane Award, McVitie’s Prize, EM Forster Award, Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award and the SMIT Non-fiction Book of the Year, Janice Galloway is an exemplary writer who can turn her pen to tackle every genre.

Her debut novel, ‘The Trick is to Keep Breathing’ (1989) about a schoolteacher’s nervous breakdown, is now a modern Scottish classic and an English literature set text. Amongst a diverse range of books, she won great praise for her fictionalised biography of Clara Schumann and her Memoir, “All Made Up” as well as short stories and a libretto for the opera, Monster.

The discussion began with the fact that publishers prefer novels to short stories, while Janice argues it is good to have the choice in the style of fiction. A novel is like a cake while stories are a selection of biscuits.

Her new collection of stories, ‘Jellyfish’ is inspired by a quote from David Lodge, “Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children; life’s the other way round.”

This is true she explains, – sexual infatuation is the topic of such classic tales, “By Grand Central Station, and Catcher in the Rye, et al. She also recalls her mother telling her, “never have wains, they ruin your life!”

These stories revolve around the experience of pregnancy, motherhood, childhood, relationships, marriage, break-up - distilled fictional tales with just one plot and narrator to create a perfect picture. For example, “Burning Love” describes the explosion of emotional anger felt by a man after his girlfriend leaves him. He wants to eradicate all memories, photographs, possessions which remind him of her, selecting her books – Plath, Hughes, Duffy, Atwood - to throw in a bonfire like a funeral pyre.

In a wide ranging conversation, we hear about Galloway’s colourful childhood memories growing up in the seaside “one horse” town of Saltcoats, Ayrshire, where families came on holiday every summer. To protect against the sun, children were rubbed down with Cookeen wrappers!

Astute observations on everyday life and emotional love, rich in metaphor and psychological insight is the master-key to Galloway’s literary talent and her artistic trick to keep writing.

If this Book Festival event had been staged at The Stand Spiegeltent, it could have been entitled the Janice and Jackie show, a comedic double act of entertaining stories and sparkling wit.

'Jellyfish', a collection of short stories by Janice Galloway, is published by Freight Books. This event at the EIBF took place on Thursday 20th August, 2015