Faber Social at Selfridges
This time last week I was dashing to Faber Social – the last night of the Words, Words, Words programme of events. They had decamped from their usual venue at Little Portland Street and moved into the Ultralounge at Selfridges which had been turned into a library. A Holy Trinity of my favourite authors were on the bill – Justine Picardie, Linda Grant and Ali Smith. I had one of those last minute panics about, ironically, what to wear and sorting school uniforms, and was feeling not at all like a Bright Young Thing, but by 7pm I was drinking an elegant Bramble cocktail clutching a very generously filled Chanel goodie bag.
Justine Picardie spoke first and gave a fascinating talk accompanied by a slideshow of pictures taken when she was researching her biography of Coco Chanel. As well as staying in Chanel’s Paris apartments (and trying on her actual clothes with her gloves and handkerchief still in the pockets) she was also the only writer allowed to visit the convent at Aubazine where the young Chanel, effectively orphaned after losing her mother to tuberculosis and being abandoned by her father, spent many miserable years.
The talk moved onto the emotional connections we make with clothes and whether knowing what was happening in an author’s life at the time they were writing a book gives it another layer of resonance and the strange parallels that occur. One of my favourite books of hers is My Mother’s Wedding Dress – a collection of essays about particular items – from a Gap jacket worn by Ruth, the sister she lost to cancer, to a pair of plastic trousers she bought in Camden Market in the 70s. She has a great blog too with a loyal readership. I think what I like about her, despite identifying with her over the loss of a sister, is whatever she writes about, she is passionate about. You don’t have to be any sort of fashionista to enjoy her work.
Linda Grant read from her Man Booker shortlisted novel The Clothes on Their Backs. I love hearing an author reading out their own words, hearing their intonation and voicing the dialogue. I like her dry humour. I like the way she doesn’t suffer fools gladly on Twitter (@lindasgrant). She dispensed with the argument that it is frivolous and in some way anti-feminist to be interested in clothes in one fell swoop.
Ali Smith, who I’ve heard speak before, entered the stage like a whirlwind. She read from a new short story called ‘The Beholder’ to be published later this year about a woman (or it may have been a man as she often writes intriguingly genderless characters) who goes to the doctor about a lump and ends up with a rosebush, needing its own trellis, growing out of her/his chest. In the Q&A she made connections with everything from Plath to Picasso at breakneck speed. Her speaking style is very much like her writing style – full of sparky humour and wordplay marked by a blazing intelligence. I was really happy to see ‘There but for the’ make the Orange Prize longlist today.
I’m so glad I got over myself and went. Thanks to Henry at London Living for the tickets.