Every visit to an arts festival should include at least one wild card event, one where you have no idea what to expect and where (hopefully) you learn about something you previously knew little about. This year’s wildcard was an event that gave a new platform to two largely forgotten authors, Lorna Moon and Ann Quin, as well as the two determined and committed (but yet also hitherto unknown) women who have worked hard to republish them.
After a brief introduction from the chair, Sheena McDonald, and an anecdote about her own personal connections to Lorna Moon’s novel Dark Star, Lori Anderson was invited to give the audience a little background information about Moon, who turns out to be one of the most fascinating characters in Scottish literary history that you (probably) have never heard of. Born in 1886 in Strichen, Aberdeenshire, the daughter of an avid socialist and atheist, she secretly marries a commercial traveller staying at her parent’s hotel, travels to Canada and becomes a journalist, and then wrangles herself a job as a Hollywood scriptwriter, before dying tragically young in a sanatorium in New Mexico. Even from the bare bones of Moon’s story, as well as a short reading from her novel, it is easy to see how Lori Anderson became quickly fascinated and committed to sharing her story. Moon also writes a killer first line-‘Nancy was glad when her grandmother died.’
As Jennifer Hodgson introduced Ann Quin, an experimental Brighton born writer who embodied 1960s radicalism and who coincidentally also spent time in New Mexico; it quickly became clear that this was an event about women who pushed boundaries and that their obscurity could be seen as a kind of punishment for their attempts to live outside of societal norms. Moon for instance had multiple children with different men; Quin was a working class woman in a middle class literary world writing experimental (and astounding) work.
Both Anderson and Hodgson are obviously passionate and knowledgeable about these two forgotten authors, expertly choosing anecdotes and information which really brought the two women to life. It is a shame then that the chair did little to dig deeper into why these two authors in particular were of interest to them and their personal connections to the material. There was also little in the way of questions about the publishing journey of either Anderson or Hodgson which surely couldn’t have been easy. There were some interesting comments from the audience, and a brief insight into Hodgson’s fascinating experiences in collecting material from Ann Quin’s ex-boyfriends, but even this wasn’t enough to hide the missed opportunity in really grappling with these two pioneering writers. Hopefully now that they are being republished, their work will go on to be discussed and celebrated by a much wider audience.
For more on the Edinburgh International Book Festival click here.