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New Life in Life Writing: Part 3 – Questions from the Audience

Posted by on May 26, 2013

Notes from a discussion, held at Senate House, 15 May 2013

Chair: Max Saunders: Professor of English at Kings College; Co-Director of the Centre for Life Writing Research.

Michael Holroyd: CV on

Sarah Bakewell: her first biography:- How to live: a Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty answers.

Wendy Moffat: American, Professor of English at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania.


Part 3 – Questions from the audience

1) How had the panellists found their writer’s “voice” for their works?

Michael Holroyd said he had always read his own work out loud to himself.   The other panellists agreed they couldn’t do better than that.

2) How do you answer when asked, but why are you writing about him/her/them?

Wendy Moffat said she pointed out that some lives have been privileged over others by history, but biography can accept the challenge of discovering the fascinating lives of the unprivileged or forgotten.

Holroyd said he pointed to novels – no-one knows a novel’s characters until the novel is published.

Max  Saunders reckoned it’s virtually impossible to get mainstream publishers interested in in “unknown” lives now.

Sarah Bakewell said “you accept the challenge by discovering for yourself what’s interesting about your subject and telling the story, even if the reaction is discouraging.”


One Response to New Life in Life Writing: Part 3 – Questions from the Audience

  1. annie hedington

    Thanks to Nicola for editing my notes. I’m looking forward to the Group Biography Symposium, organised by the Centre for Life-Writing Research and the Biographers Club, to be held on 6th June at King’s College London. The afternoon sessions will include a discussion between two agents and a publisher on the future and popularity of biography and memoir as genres in publishing, ; also, an exploration of the blending of fact and imagination involved in writing family memoirs, and reflections on the possibilities of fiction for telling historical and biographical stories.

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