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Barbara Trapido at Scarborough Literature Festival
2011-04-15: I've just had a life-changing experience at Scarborough Literature Festival.
I confess .. am I allowed to say this? I don't read a lot of fiction. I'm more of a workaholic than a novel reader, and I'm covering the festival on Twitter and Facebook .. for work. So I'm there to take photographs, tweet, keep everyone informed about the festival, and if something personally interesting happens, fabulous.Barbara Trapido at Scarborough Literature Festival
The people behind the festival were quite excited about Trapido so I popped along this morning at 10:30 to see what was up.
The way I remember the conversation that happened on stage is: diamonds floated out of Barbara Trapido's mouth.
It's almost as if, for the first time, I see the point of literature.
She struggled herself to understand what her latest book was about, Sex and Stravinsky, so she broke off to write Frankie and Stankie. Then she came back to it for a while and her husband got ill. Four years later, she came back to it again and she said (this is from memory through tears and smiles as I listened, so forgive me if I'm inaccurate, but the essence is correct) .. she had two recordings of Stravinsky and one was slow, druggy, sexy, the other not. She thought the story lay somewhere inbetween the two versions. So she had them intercut on a tape recorder and spend a month listening to it, laid down on the floor in her dressing gown.
This is a woman who has fish fingers stuck to her kitchen floor.
She writes from 4am - 8am because she's still a little dreamy, and it's before the real world wakes up. No-one knew she was writing her first novel.
I asked whether she researches for a year, then writes for a year, then publicises for a year .. what her rhythm was. Basically, there's no system. She researches after she's written. It all comes from her head. The characters constantly surprise her and when they do, she's off again exploring why that person did what they did.
She writes longhand, scribbles over it, rewrites, reads it out to tape and rewrites it back, scribbles again, talks it through into a mirror, gets it typed out, then scribbles over that. Most of the time, she's trying to make it shorter, working out what to cut.
I was sat by the exit and James Nash, the host, was gracious enough to thank me for my question. I said "that was fantastic" and he said "I know, and she doesn't realise how fabulous she is". She was behind him. He told her what I'd just said. She leaned over to me. "Is that a Ted Baker shirt?" Me: "I've no idea". Then she was off into her own experiences again .. she knew a community of immigrants who dressed smart and one of them wore a shirt just like mine.
In all that .. in all that deep, deep exploration .. that's the point.
Because in our X-Box world, what it is to be human is like a distant memory.
Barbara Trapido is what it is to be human.
And yet I don't know why. You know when someone tells a joke and you go "yeah yeah" and they tell another and it's "slightly funny, I'll give you that" and they keep going and by the end of ten minutes you're on the floor trying to work out how to keep breathing? She's like that. All unassuming, a bit dotty, takes a while to remember the name of the main character in her book. But an avalanche of feathers is still an avalanche. Stay with her, and your certainties melt away.
I've been tearful since. I feel like I went to sleep and woke up in Hanoi. She's tripped something surefooted inside me.
Cherish her.
(video)

By John Allsopp
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