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 literature.britishcouncil.org.
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.”