Fay Weldon at The Bear Ballroom

On Saturday the living literary legend that is Fay Weldon came to the Bear Ballroom to be interviewed by Rosalind Ambler. The author of ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’ and more books than she can remember, and who in a former life in advertising came up with the slogan ‘Unzip A Banana’, teaches Creative Writing at MA level at Bath Spa University and at 87 still has a twinkle in her eye and lots to say.

She is, however, somewhat softly spoken, and no amount of tweaking the sound could rectify that, which made for a frustrating experience. What I did hear was some very skilful interviewing on the part of Rosalind Ambler, who drew Fay out on all sorts of subjects and asked some great questions about her life and work.

Fay reminisced about pancakes and swans and swimming in the sea as a child, and about the scent of hot entrails on the air of Belsize Park. She had sympathy with millennials (the subject of her new book, ‘After the Peace’) who have ‘grown up in a world where everyone has done something for them’ (Fay herself having struggled as a unmarried mother in the 50s), and writers who self-publish. ‘Self-published books never really get anywhere’, said Fay sagely (see her other new book ‘Why Will No-one Publish My Novel). She spoke about how her training in advertising has taught her how to appeal to her reader, with whom she considers she has a one-to-one contract.

She wouldn’t be drawn on the #metoo movement, saying that it was other people who had labelled her a feminist and admitting to having at times used her femininity to her advantage.

These days, she said, she finds that ‘the contemporary world is so hard to understand’.

Questions from the floor revealed that she has no television and that she listens to the Archers in secret, and that she is a Patron of Guys Marsh Prison, for which she was thanked.

She was most amused to learn that the daughter of her first kiss was in the audience.

Someone afterwards described her as warm and accessible, and as having lived through fascinating times, whilst Fay described herself as ‘uppity’ and as liking a bit of drama.

I found her interesting and polite and witty and wise and have had my interest in her emotionally intelligent work renewed to the point where I will be buying one of her books in the near future.

It’s just that we couldn’t hear her very well, and that’s the truth.

© Gail Foster 11th June 2019