The Blackwell Presents Events rarely disappoint and, as an added treat to seeing A.M. Homes in the flesh, she brought her friend and fellow writer Neel Mukherjee along to structure the event (and possibly distract from having the full gaze of the audience on her at all times). And it was free.
The outcome was a very natural sounding conversation, which these type of literary set-ups often fail to achieve. It was punctuated only by demanding audience members making requests like, 'slow down!' or 'can you spell that?' as Neel would reference a wealth of literary greats many of us had never heard of before but fully intend to get to grips with.
A.M. Homes is the famous person you admire that you can see yourself being friends with. Usually when you meet your idols you let yourself down by being too star struck to be yourself or they act slightly standoffish and ruin all your hopes of ever nurturing that alliance. But she exudes so much warmth and normality that I fully believe if I'd attempted some sort of conversational gambit, we would have become lifelong friends.
Also it's nice to not only be in the presence of writers you admire but to see the real life version who you've only ever constructed in vague abstract terms. Yes, she's clearly very thoughtful and articulate. Her eloquence on the page is matched by a philosophical disposition, her sharp wit and cutting social commentary whilst not at odds with the reality are pleasing because she's so utterly comfortable in her own brilliance. Anyone else would blow it by being too self aware.
After Neel read from his newly published book, A.M. struggled to read her printout (I think the pages were in the wrong order and it was the wrong piece) so she asked an audience member to toss her a book. It somehow became a magical moment. Later she apologised to the microphone when she knocked off it while excitedly gesticulating, which was hilarious and endearing.
Homes is undoubtably a fine writer, encompassing all the traits of a great writer but the takeaway message was that she's also human and surprisingly normal. May We Be Forgiven is the first book of hers that I read and the energy of this huge tome grabs you immediately. She explained why in the course of the talk - it was meant to be a short story so has all the urgency of one. It just ended up being 800 pages long so defied the genre.
They laughed about how all their students 'don't read anything!' but all consider themselves writers. They commiserated about the publishing industry's current obsession with 'character likeability' and all the publishers in the room (myself included) shrank into their seats whilst the unpublished novelists stamped their feet in delight at the shared exasperation with their idols.
A.M Homes is currently working on a new novel, here in Oxford, for the next month. You'll probably be behind her in Primark or Tesco and never know it!