Simonetta Agnello Hornby
It took moderator David Layton a while to figure out that his IFOA panel was not all about him, spending way too long making introductions and framing his questions. Fortunately, the authors were strong enough to consign their facilitator to the background.
Though the writers were supposed to talk about the extent to which their work opened a window on to society - one of those seemingly artificial themes IFOA often imposes on a panel - the conversation got most interesting when the writers talked about their relationship to their work.
Asked if they ever have a connection quite like the one with their first novel, Italian scribe Simonetta Agnello Hornby, author of Nun, suggested that she treats her novels like children.
"I never say I have favourites - though I may like one more than another - but really, once they're written they grow up and I leave them alone and don't really think about them."
Emily Schultz (The Blondes) had a different perspective.
"No, no, they're like lovers," she said. "They get better and better. When I was writing my first novel I felt like I was going to finish it or it was going to finish me."
Emily St. John Mandel (The Lola Quartet) said no matter which book it is, she writes and rewrites.
"The first draft that I sent to the editor for my first book was really my 10th."
Linda Spalding, shortlisted for both the GG and Writers' Trust fiction award for The Purchase, recalled how driven she was to write her debut novel.
"I'd be driving in my car and a sentence would come to me and I'd have to pull off the road to write it down. That kept happening, whole sentences would come and I just had to have them. That doesn't happen any more."
Layton quoted Mordecai Richler, who advised that when you're suffering writers block, you should just "send in the hunchback" and asked the panel if they'd ever done that.
Hornby, who seemed to spend the evening slapping Layton down, said she didn't understand the question and who could blame her? What did he mean? Her problem was both with its essence - Richler meant, create a wild and crazy plot device - and the word itself. When it was defined for her, she said she doesn't use politically incorrect phrases.
No one else seemed impressed with the question.
Mandel explained that she just attends to another section of the novel. "Really," she said, "you just have to do the work."