Deborah Moggach’s Books That Built Me offered guests at the Club at Café Royal a mini masterclass in writing – I went away thinking that these six [pictured] each contain such a profound lesson about how to write, they should almost be set texts on my alma mater’s hallowed creative writing MA.
But the jewel in the crown of the literary treasure trove was Moggach herself – warm, funny, generous, erudite and full of marvellous anecdotes. I’m mad about her, as I am about her latest novel, Something to Hide
Huge thanks as always to Champagne Bollinger, Tatler, Prestat chocolate and The Club at Café Royal, and also to Alex Peake-Tomkinson (vast gratitude for the notes below, Alex).
THE BOOKS THAT BUILT DEBORAH MOGGACH
Just William , Richmal Crompton
“I was going to marry him, I just adore him,” The eponymous William is eleven in Crompton’s books, and Deborah discovered them at the same age. Although her parents were both prolific novelists, she wasn’t a bookish child, but William made her realise that being funny is one of the greatest gifts books can give us – there’s a truth in laughter and “humour in everything….’When my mother was suffering from dementia, she said, ‘Debby, there were two men in my bedroom last night; one in the wardrobe and the other under the bed. Well, I’ve never believed in threesomes and I’m not about to start now’.”
More than the humour, Crompton’s refusal to patronise younger readers makes her writing extra special; she uses what might be thought of now as challenging language and expects readers to just keep up (which of course they do) “People [in the books] were always saying ‘testily’ or ‘unctuously’ – she’d even say ‘William ejaculated’…. She made language come alive.
To the Lighthouse , Virginia Woolf
Deborah said that, like everyone of her generation, she was affected by both DH Lawrence and Virginia Woolf – Woolf “sensitised me to language”. She also said that “Woolf’s snobbishness is very hard to deal with now.” She liked that everything and nothing happened in Woolf’s novels and compared this to Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, a novel in which a man tries to buy a pair of shoelaces. She said “nothing happens but it is absolutely thrilling.”
Deborah also likes Agatha Christie and Mrs Trefusis pointed out that Christie “is all about plot whereas Woolf is all about voice.” Deborah mentioned how autobiographical some of Woolf’s fiction is and said that her first novel, You Must Be Sisters, was also autobiographical, but writing it “took my past away.”
Middlemarch, George Eliot
Describing Edward Casaubon, the man that Dorothea Brooke – the heroine of the novel – decides to marry, Deborah called him “a frightful dry old stick.” Discussing Middlemarch also led Deborah to talk about how she depicted her own first marriage in fiction – in Close to Home, she wrote about a young mother living in Camden Town, just as she was. She also said that real people can’t be depicted in fiction – “it’s like newsprint, when you hold it too close to your eyes, it blurs”.
She went on to say that in order to create fictional characters who seem real, you should ask questions: what would they do if they got stuck in a lift, for example.
The Siege Of Krishnapur, JG Farrell
Deborah described this novel as being “all about people clinging on to their humanity and customs as the world collapses around them”. She described the “myopic world” of this book but also said “a novelist is there to help us broaden our empathies, it’s very important.
The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford
Deborah adapted both The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate for television and says that Mitford’s “dialogue is to die for.” She also commented that Fabrice, Linda’s lover is a “chatterer” and that the “sexiest thing ever” is him calling Linda the minute after he has returned to his own home after the two have spent the night together so that they can talk at length.
Short Cuts, Raymond Carver
Deborah admitted that she loves Robert Altman’s film adaptation of Short Cuts as much as she loves Raymond Carver’s short stories. She commented “Carver understood that writing is all to do with what you leave out. Hardly anything need happen, he understood that. Those stories are an object lesson in how people’s lives are intertwined.”