Interviews

‘Write the way you can, not the way you should’: Brit Bennett + Susanna Clarke

Brit Bennett + Susanna Clarke on Zoom

Missed last night at our Virtual Shortlist Festival? Read on for the highlights!

To kick off the first night of our exciting Virtual Shortlist event, novelist and Women’s Prize for Fiction Founder Director Kate Mosse was joined on Zoom by two of our shortlisted authors, Brit Bennett (The Vanishing Half) and Susanna Clarke (Piranesi) for an interview interspersed with readings by the actors Ruth Negga and Jordan Stephens and a live Q&A from the audience. The authors discussed the unexpected elements of the writing process, the pressure of the ‘sophomore slump’ as second novelists, and the importance of writing in the way that is best for you.

The evening began with a powerful reading from The Vanishing Half by actor Ruth Negga. Live from New York, Brit Bennett told us how she didn’t expect her book to be multi-generational: ‘I hadn’t planned to write a book that was quite as sprawling. It took many drafts to figure it out! I had to afford myself the freedom to wander these side streets even if they didn’t lead anywhere.‘ 

Brit Bennett also spoke of how her mother’s memories of growing up in the rural south influenced her work: ‘It casts shadows on those who pass through and those who haven’t set foot in it’. 

The audience then enjoyed an excerpt of Piranesi, performed by Rizzle Kicks singer and Star Wars: Rogue One actor Jordan Stephens

Susanna Clarke then gave a piece of advice she had received while writing through a chronic health condition that encouraged writers to write in a way that works for them: ‘Write the way you can, not the way you should’. She added that she doesn’t write in drafts: ‘I write a paragraph here and a sentence there – I don’t recommend this to anybody! It’s a bit like taking dictation from someone who’s down a corridor  or in another room. And I have to piece it together.’

The shortlisted authors also discussed the pressures and superstitions associated with being a second novelist.

Brit Bennett said, ‘you write a debut novel with complete freedom, no one is waiting for it and there are no expectations, but a lot of the process of writing this book (The Vanishing Half) was trying to shut the door and focus on the fact that I was writing a different thing.’ 

Susanna Clarke suggested that whilst Piranesi might not have been the book people were expecting because it is completely different from her debut, she felt free: ‘at the end, I enjoyed it immensely. The reception has been fantastic, and much more than expected, but in some ways, the biggest joy has been that I’ve finished another book when I really didn’t expect to.’ 

Want to watch the event in full? Watch it here:

You can still join us for the two remaining nights of this year’s Virtual Shortlist Festival, on Tuesday 15th and Wednesday 16th June. Each event will feature two shortlisted authors as well as internationally acclaimed actors reading from extracts from the shortlisted books. You will have the opportunity to ask the authors questions in live Q&A sessions each night, chaired by Kate Mosse, Founder Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction and bestselling novelist.

(Each event will be made available to watch on-demand the following day, so if you can’t make every night live, you can still attend!)

Tuesday 15th June 2021, 7.30 pm BST: Yaa Gyasi + Claire Fuller, chaired by Kate Mosse, featuring readings from actors Zawe Ashton + Juliet Stevenson

Wednesday 16th June, 7.30 pm BST: Patricia Lockwood + Cherie Jones, chaired by Kate Mosse, featuring readings from actors Hayley Atwell + Jade Anouka

Buy your ticket now >

*Once you have bought a ticket, on each day of the programme you will receive an automatic Eventbrite email containing a new Zoom link allowing you to access that night’s event.

Women's Prize for Fiction Virtual Shortlist Festival including Brit Bennett + Susanna Clarke

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