Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, the previous event ran over the allotted time and the session with Sarah Hall and Ruth Thomas was delayed by twenty minutes. It was unfortunate not only because waiting around is the last thing anyone enjoys doing, but because the discussion hosted by Peggy Hughes, the Dundee Literary Festival director, was really interesting and I regret the loss of that time.
Both Sarah Hall and Ruth Thomas were promoting the publication of their new books and we were privy to short readings from both authors. Sarah Hall has an emotive and endearing reading voice. When she came to an stop halfway through ‘Butcher’s Perfume’ (the first story in her collection The Beautiful Indifference) there was more than one audible sigh. Ruth Thomas was also a delight to listen to as she read the first chapter of her first novel, The Home Corner.
My interest lay primarily with Sarah Hall and her collection of short stories, but Ruth Thomas found herself a new fan during this event. Both women have prior works, Thomas having published a collection of short stories and Hall several novels. Both women were engaging, and exciting in their discussions of their writing processes and preferences, creating a general feeling of curiosity about their work without having to labour the point.
Although the event was attended by a small crowd, the room did not feel empty. Both authors and the chair were equally impressive enthusiastic, smart and witty in their conversation. The discussion turned quickly from the more regular “how do you write/why do write” questions to a more in-depth debate about the value of short stories in comparison to that of novels. Thomas was made humorously irate by the suggestion that “a short story is a dry run for a novel”, being as bold as to say that she herself would prefer to be in a position to resist demands that she write a novel. Hall was equally as passionate about this topic, claiming that short stories require a “certain, unteachable, skill”. She spoke with pride about her return to her first love of writing and pointed out that festivals like ours at Dundee are “becoming more accommodating for short stories”, a fact with which both herself and Thomas were incredibly grateful.
Both women discussed at length the place short stories hold in the literary world. It was remarkable to see Thomas argue about and defend the need for short stories when she was here primarily to promote her first novel. Although both authors were present for separate reasons, the camaraderie between them made the event inclusive and fulfilling for everyone. It was a pleasure to listen to both the readings and the subsequent discussion. Most people were keen to hear more about the differences between novels and short story writing, and why Hall and Thomas believed that publishing houses were less supportive of short story collections.
Due to such a vibrant presentation of themselves, their work, and their opinions, I purchased a copy of both books and will admit to being overly excitable during the signing session. I highly recommend attending any event with either author, and would strongly urge the perusal of work which is as entertaining and witty as these women themselves.