“Research is the fascinating bit [of writing historical fiction] but you have to get rid of a lot of it.” Clearly, a lot of what was not used for the writing of Unfashioned Creatures, was used during the book launch in what felt more like a lecture than a promotional event. Whilst the “lecture” was unarguably interesting, it also seemed indulgent and out of place at times, diverting into subjects that were only very tenuously linked to the novel.
Lesley McDowell was introduced by her publisher, Sarah Hunt. However, very little context or background information was provided about the work as a whole. Instead, an actor approached the lectern, immediately delving into a rather bemusing reading of an excerpt that the audience was not in the least prepared for.
Whilst the use of two actors was later explained by Lesley as being representative of the two narrative voices in her book, and was a welcome change to the normal format of a writer’s event, it detracted from the personal and intimate nature of the author reading from her own work. In hindsight, a lot of the actors’ efforts were lost due to the lack of context to the excerpts being “performed”. The reading amounted to a difficult, somewhat surreal experience, as the two actors read in turns , interrupted by McDowell’s long discourse on psychological history.
However, despite the event seeming a little disorganised and often containing irrelevant features such as the audience sitting in complete darkness, or the actors being fitted with microphones yet talking into a stationery microphone,.the enthusiasm of McDowell was palpable. Yet it seemed that the majority of her discussion was centred on characters other than those present in the book, which admittedly piqued my curiosity. Much of the information appeared to be a way of displaying the lengths McDowell had gone to in the research of her novel, with particular attention paid to the figure of Claire Clarmont, a woman who is not at all central to the text.
“Unfashioned Creatures” was an event I anticipated with excitment and it seems fitting that a novel that takes place in Dundee should be launched at the Dundee Literary Festival. While I am glad I did attend the event, I left without purchasing the book. The novel is perhaps something I might come back to but at the moment I’m holding out for McDowell’s next novel which seems to already be in the pipeline.)
The highlight of the evening was the audience question segment, where McDowell, completely unscripted, discussed Unfashioned Creatures in a more direct manner. During this stage of the event she was far more excitable and endearing than earlier. Without the aid of her notebook and extensive research notes we were introduced to the woman behind this work and she came across exceptionally well. It seems a shame that this more improvised scenario offered up more reason to purchase the book than did the entirely orchestrated event beforehand.