Ivana Galapceva reviews Amy Mason’s Festival of Ideas event.
Bristol Festival of Ideas and Spike Island have joined forces in delivering a gratifying project – promoting debut novelists on a monthly basis. On Thursday 26 February, it was Amy Mason’s turn to read and talk about her novel The Other Ida, for which she has been awarded the 2014 Dundee International Book Prize.
In the relaxed, informal setting of the Associated Space at Spike Island, Mason read a few excerpts of the novel and discussed her personal path of making it happen. It took her about 5 years to complete the novel, after many rewriting surges and a dozen drafts, yet the publishing turned out to be a fortunately speedy endeavour. Also, Mason happened to complete the final draft of the book at Spike Island during her residency in 2011; discussing the novel behind-the-scenes, therefore, came out as a natural déjà-vu.
The main protagonist is the almost-30-year-old Ida Irons, who returns home for her mother’s funeral and reunites with her younger sister Alice. The mother was the eccentric Bridie Adair, who wrote an infamous play, rather critically acclaimed at the time, and Ida was named after the character in the play. With this legacy to carry as a burden or a shadow, Ida struggles all her life. Timeline-wise, the novel is divided into three sections: the young Ida, the teenage Ida, and the adult Ida, following not only her development, but also portraying the family (mostly mother) and the circumstances of becoming what she is.
The novel addresses a very important social issue: women’s alcoholism. The mother is an alcoholic, driven to despair after not continuing any further with her work, following the play. Ida, even though criticizing her mother, looks up to her all of her life. In a way, The Other Ida also deals with the notion of women outcasts, a female anti-hero.
Mason told the gathered group that she was researching the themes of women’s alcoholism (see her Guardian article) and literature’s female fallen heroines in order to gain a sound portrayal.
What also helped, she told the audience, is finding photographs of real people to fit the characters, so as to make them real, palpable even. To make a character alive is the ultimate writer’s task, after all.
The evening ended with Mason talking about her future projects – a show at the Bristol Old Vic ‘Mass’ in April that deals with her relationship towards religion and another novel currently in the making.
Images: Ivana Galapceva