This week saw Olivia Laing visit Manchester to discuss her new book The Trip To Echo Spring.
The evening, hosted by Andrew Biswell, professor of Modern Literature at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), is the latest in a series of free author events held by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in collaboration with the Manchester Writing School. To start proceedings, Eileen McAuley and Jake Ormrod, two tremendously talented writers and Masters students at the Writing School, read extracts from their own work. Olivia Laing followed this with a reading from her novel and a discussion of the book with Andrew Biswell.
On the subject of Olivia Laing’s work, Prof Biswell said, “Olivia has quickly established herself, since her first book, as one of the most impressive writers and critics currently publishing.”
The Trip To Echo Spring tackles the often self-destructive relationship between writers and alcohol. Journeying through the States, Laing explores the lives of six writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver.
The author, shortlisted for a 2013 Costa Biography Prize, explained the reasoning behind focusing on six writers. She said, “The book is structured around a journey I made across America. The reason I did that was because I have read all kinds of books about writers and alcohol and what they tended to do is deal with each person one by one. I noticed that all had similar patterns. I thought it would be really interesting to see repeated patterns between all the authors.”
The book, Laing’s second, has been incredibly well received, described by The New York Times as, “A charming and gusto-driven look at the alcoholic insanity of six famous writers.”
Afterwards there was a chance for a question and answer session with the audience. One member asked where the inspiration for the title came from. Laing recounted, “Echo Spring is a kind of Kentucky Bourbon. The phrase comes from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, one of Tennessee Williams’ plays. It’s about a Southern family in a house. The drunkard young man, when he’d drink he’d express that by saying I’m just making a little short trip to Echo Spring.”
The next author event hosted by the Manchester Writing School will take place on 31st March with authors Helen Simpson and Ben Masters, and it is again, FREE! To find out about that and much more visit anthonyburgess.org
You can also discover more about Olivia Laing, The Trip to Echo Spring and her forthcoming book The Lonely City at olivialaing.co.uk
George is a third year MMU student studying Criminology & Sociology who aspires to become a writer. Torn between two cities, George spends half his time in Leeds, and half his time in Manchester. He is as northern as killing your brothers kestrel. Follow him on Twitter.