Natasha Solomons: Reading & Creative Writing Workshop

From June 13 to 16, 2013, British novelist Natasha Solomons was in Bamberg for a reading from her prize-winning novels and a creative writing workshop.

The public reading started with an introduction by Prof. Dr. Christoph Houswitschka, greeting Mrs Solomons and summarizing her works, style and main topics, which include Jewish identity, migration and issues of class in Great Britain. During the evening Natasha initially focused on her first novel, Mr Rosenblum's List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman (published in the US under the title Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English), from which she read a chapter where the protagonist Jack Rosenblum, “five foot three and a half inches of sheer tenacity”, and his wife Sadie are invited for drinks by a real English knight and are made fun of by everybody because of Jack's succession of faux pas and because of his crazy idea to build a golf course on his property.

Natasha Solomons then read from her upcoming novel The Gallery of Vanished Husbands (which will be published in August), which is structured like a collection of paintings depicting protagonist Juliet Montague in various moments of her life. This is the first novel by Solomons where art plays a major role and the first where part of the plot is set in the US.

The reading was followed by a Q&A session, which touched a range of topics that varied from the amount of Jewishness present in both her novels and her definition of herself as a writer, her main sources of inspiration while writing novels, to the major role that objects have in Solomons' fiction. The writer's visit to Bamberg university was of particular interest for the participants of Prof. Houswitschka's current class “Postwar and Contemporary Jewish British Literature”. The evening was concluded by a more informal meeting that involved Franconian beer held at the Fischerei.

Creative Writing Workshop

In the first day of the workshop on Friday, June 14 Natashja talked about writing rules, both bad ones and good ones, and of course about the pleasure of transgressing them. We did a few writing exercises and got some advice on how to structure our projects. Natasha adviced us to create a visual map that inspires us, which can help us visualize places, colours, or ideas that we want to be present in our texts, and talked as an example about the one she made while writing her second book, The Novel in the Viola (published with the title The House at Tyneford in the US). In the afternoon we also had the opportunity to talk to Natasha's husband, screenwriter David Solomons, whose upcoming film Not Another Happy Ending will close this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival; we asked him lots of questions and he told us about some of the experiences he and Natasha have had so far while working together.

On the second day of the workshop we worked at our own projects for a bigger text (novel, play or novella), either a current, preexisting project or a new one. We wrote some excerpts of them following Natasha's instructions. We also talked about confronting the practical tasks connected to having a novel published, like for instance writing query letters to agents.

The experience of having here at Bamberg university a young successful writer talking about her job in such a honest, clear way was very interesting and absolutely unique since it also gave us a helpful insight into what it is like to pursue a non-academic career after having studied literature, choosing instead a creative profession that involves writing either novels or screenplays.

Chiara Manghi