I like to describe my librarian working life as one big literary party, yet despite frequent interactions with authors, meeting my heroes still leaves me star struck. Seeing Maggie O’Farrell at this year’s Aye Write was no exception.
Speaking to a packed out Mitchell Theatre, and compered by Creative Scotland’s Sasha de Buyl-Pisco, O’Farrell was promoting her latest offering (and first foray into non-fiction) I Am, I Am, I Am. In this memoir, she reflects on the “17 brushes with death” she has experienced. Was there a moment, asks de Buyl-Pisco, when you thought, “This is happening a lot?” The spoiler, as she assured her mother before the book’s publication, is that she lives.
Written for her daughter to support her through our own life-threatening condition, O’Farrell speaks about the need for narratives in life; we need stories to understand our own experiences, and to understand those of others. de Buyl-Pisco frequently inquires as to whether certain chapters in the book were intended to tell readers they are not alone. Certainly, confirms the author, citing examples of an encounter with an unknown man who put his camera strap around her neck (“Which woman hasn’t experienced an unwanted interaction with a man?” she asks) and miscarriage, “the closest you’ll experience death that’s not your own” and something that’s not openly spoken about, possibly at a time when women need to talk most.
O’Farrell discloses that at every promotional event for I Am, I Am, I Am so far, a member of the audience has fainted, and appeals to anyone in our audience to make themselves known to staff should they feel unwell. As someone who suffers from an irrational fear of fainting at public events, I begin to panic that I won’t be able to concentrate on the rest of the evening, so heavily will I be focusing on staying upright, but O’Farrell’s engaging and humorous conversation means lack of concentration will not be an issue, indeed, I am hooked on every word. O’Farrell is famed for her beautifully lyrical written phrases in her fiction, and now her non-fiction, and speaks eloquently too, with gentle humor. She answers what are sometimes awkward questions articulately and respectfully, and appears at ease with audience.
I Am, I Am, I Am, an onomatopoeic emulation of a beating heart, ends with the beginning of O’Farrell death-defying story. She does not feature the events of her life chronologically, instead grouping them by the body-part being threatened, explaining her reasons for engaging the reader. Describing a devastating childhood illness where she defied doctors’ predicted outcomes twice, first by surviving, and secondly by regaining physical strength and movement, she mentions that doctors feared she would never be able to hold a pen again. Our audience no doubt leaves the theatre collectively delighted that she can indeed hold her pen, and use it to such brilliant ends.
For more on Aye Write 2018 click here.