Award winning author and poet, Helen Dunmore, visited Uxbridge Library on Saturday 6th February to discuss her latest novel Exposure. Helen, who was the winner of the first ever Orange Prize for Fiction (now the Baileys Women’s Prize for Literature), also took the opportunity to answer questions about her career, give advice to any aspiring writers and show her support for libraries on National Library Day.
Exposure is a literary thriller set during the Cold War. It follows the story of Lilly, a WWII German refugee hiding her Germanic origins, as she tries to hold her family together. Helen explained that the novel is inspired by the Cold War period when total war still seemed like a strong possibility, the Soviet Union were perceived as a “fearsome enemy” and a paranoia over who to trust was strong amongst the population of Britain. Helen was particularly interested in turning the comforting, such as a loved family garden or friendly policeman, into something dark and threatening. In this way she compared the story to an “earthquake.”
Helen identified her novel as owing more to the spy thrillers of Graham Greene or John le Carré, rather than the escapist fantasies of Ian Fleming, explaining that she was more interested in how their profession “deforms [and] damages” spies as well as their relationships with family and friends. Helen described everyone as having secrets, many that are never disclosed, and explained that this was one of the joys of literature, to get inside the minds of characters and reveal insular thoughts that are normally hidden from view.
In the questions that followed Helen Dunmore explained her writing process. This particular novel was more tightly plotted than some of her previous ones. Lilly’s journey, for example, was plotted out because Helen felt that the character could not be passive and simply react to events around her but had to find things within herself such as her strength and determination. When asked about advice to aspiring writers she answered that she believes the act of writing to be particular to each writer but did point out the importance of being tough, both with yourself and in persisting with writing in the face of rejection.
Helen also declared her love for reading. Talking on National Libraries Day she praised libraries for being a “wonderful resource” and an “important” space. She remembered “always, always” visiting libraries as a child and borrowing the maximum number of books because there was never enough money to fill her appetite for reading. She described libraries as both “civilised” and “civilising” for their goals not to make financial profit but to make lives richer.
Our thanks to Helen Dunmore for her inspiring talk and Waterstones Uxbridge for providing books for signing. Exposure can be borrowed from Hillingdon Libraries or purchased from all good book shops.
There are many exciting author events coming up at Hillingdon Libraries, including A Bookish Evening with Jen Campbell on Friday 4th March 7pm-9pm at We Love Coffee on Harefield High Street. Join Harefield Library at their local coffee shop, We Love Coffee, for a fun bookish evening with an author talk, quiz, literary table and prizes. Tickets are £5 to be paid on the door and all Library proceeds will go to The Book Bus charity. Please visit the Hillingdon Libraries Twitter, Facebook or one of our branches for more information.
By Mark – Uxbridge Library