On Thursday, 10 November 2011 at 7pm I attended a meet-the-author event with Mary Lawson in the Ingeborg-Drewitz library. Jan Bild, who also conducts a reading group at that public library among other venues, hosted the event. We were happy to get a glass of wine thanks to the Canadian Embassy that sponsored the event.
Mary Lawson was born in 1946 in Ontario (Canada) and moved to Great Britain in 1968. She got the “first novel award” for her first masterpiece “Crow Lake”. For four years no literary agent wanted to have her book (in the UK you cannot send unsolicited books directly to the editor) and she was quite desperate because she could paper her wall with reception receipts. In the end there was a bidding contest involving 7 publishers: “There is no sense in this business.” (Mary Lawson). In 2006 her second novel “The Other Side of the Bridge” was published.
Jan Bild welcomed us and stressed that reading can be a rather solitary occupation. I can only confirm her statement. I often read books and am full of impressions and thoughts, but having nobody to share my view with. Moreover I often pick boring books when I am alone in a book store.
When you join a reading group you can share your ideas about the book and discuss controversial issues. Additionally, you can rely on Jan Bild or the leader of the respective reading group to pick an interesting book (I have never been disappointed in their choice).
Maybe the most striking thing about Mary Lawson’s novels is that she can write about good people without becoming boring, no, she succeeds in writing compelling stories. That might be due to her former experience as an occupational psychologist. She is very interested in what is lying beneath the surface and how much is preset and how much is down to your environment. Mary Lawson also told us that she had been brought up in a remote farming community in southern Ontario and her parents had had a holiday house in northern Ontario in the midst of lakes, grass and rocks.
When she was raising her kids she sold her first short stories to women magazines, but did not like to write about boy-girl encounters any longer. What she really wanted was to write about relations. So she wrote a story about her grandmother (who really had a bookrest on her loom -> that is related in “Crow Lake”). An editor told her it was stuff for a novel and she should write about Canada.
She did not study literature, but learned from trial and error (which means she develops a sequence of the book in writing and then plays it through in her mind to see if it works out). That was a long process so she has been listening to tips from other authors. It has also worked out well for Mary Lawson the fact her sister has been helping with reading and providing comments, so she gets an incentive of 10 % of her royalties. Mary Lawson admitted she hates research which is one reason her stories are always at least partly situated in farming communities. But to write authentic books she is forced to do research. While visiting a library in New Liskard she heard of a doctor who practiced in the 50s and 60s and somebody who worked with horses at that time. So it was a stroke of luck for her. From them she learned that doctors did not know how to resuscitate a heart in 1958 and blood was transferred from person to person, there was no blood bank, but people volunteered in a registry and were called by telephone in case of emergency. She also learned that many German POWs (prisoners of war, here in World War II) went back to Canada or stayed there. It was an absurd situation in which German immigrants to Canada fought against Germans from Nazi-Germany.
Back then it was also unheard of for a mother to leave her husband and children.
One man from the audience praised Mary Lawson because at first he did not know “The Other Side of the Lake” was written by a woman because it was so well elaborated on and from a seemingly male perspective.
Her third novel will also be situated in Canada.
It was very nice of Mary Lawson to answer all questions of the approximate 40 participants at this mainly question-and-answer meeting. At the end she signed all her books, whether bought at the event or beforehand. I asked her for a dedication and she kindly wrote: “To Angela with best wishes, Mary Lawson” in both of my books. I experienced her as a very nice person and recommend reading her novels. I think such a meeting with the author in person is really exciting especially because you can pose any questions related to the books that pop up in your mind, so do not hesitate to participate in similar events.