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Manchester Writing series welcomes biographer Edmund Gordon

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By Pierangelly Del Rio Martinez

The Manchester Writing series recently welcomed columnist, writer and biographer Edmund Gordon. Gordon came to Manchester’s Anthony Burgess Foundation for a conversation with poet and Academic Director of the Manchester Writing School Adam O’ Riordan.

Gordon’s book The Invention of Angela Carter has been received with critical acclaim after its publication in October 2016, being selected as Book of the Year in The Sunday TimesDaily Telegraph, The GuardianFinancial TimesSpectator and Observer. After doing detailed research, which took over five years and required the compilation of manuscripts, letters, journals and oral testimonies, Gordon wrote an extensive account of Carter’s life, focusing not only on her achievements as a writer but also in her personal life.

“The story of her life is the story of how she invented herself,” Gordon said, reading a fragment of the biography’s introduction. “Of how she progressed from a shy, introverted childhood to a nervy, aggressively unconventional youth to a happy, self-confident middle age.”

Carter, who has been recognised as one of the most influential British writers and a prominent feminist literature icon, died in 1992. Gordon was happy to give an overview of her life for the younger members of the audience, narrating what was her youth, adulthood and her contribution to English literature, proving his vast knowledge about the topic and engagement with his research.

The event was not only a tribute to Angela Carter’s legacy, but also an insight into Edmund Gordon’s life. When asked why he had chosen to focus on Angela Carter in particular, Gordon said he was “a huge fan of her work.” He “pitched” himself for the role after meeting one of Carter’s editors through his work at The London Review of Books. He was introduced to Carter’s widower Mark Pearce and her son, who authorised him to write an official biography.

After this, the process of writing what would become The Invention of Angela Carter started. Gordon immersed himself in a consuming project in which he interviewed the people who had left a significant mark on Carter’s life and even went as far as to track her steps by embarking on a journey to Russia, as Carter did in the 1970s.

Not everything about the project was easy, however; when asked about the challenges he experienced while writing the biography, Gordon was quick to note, “Memories become corrupt; you really need to develop an instinct.” He described his experience with oral anecdotes as, “A detective’s work” and said, “You have to dismiss something because only one person tells you about it and it just doesn’t sound plausible. Nobody else can corroborate it and there’s no written evidence.”

At the event, Gordon also answered questions from the audience, who were curious to know whether his account of Angela Carter’s life could be described as entirely truthful. He responded, “It’s impossible. The idea that you can fit into a four hundred page book everything about a person, all of their personality, everything they did – even in a relatively short life like Angela Carter’s. It’s quite a grotesque act of compression, distortion and omission.”

Despite the positive reception of The Invention of Angela Carter and the book being the only one of its kind, it is perhaps inevitable that other Carter biographies will surface in the upcoming years. Gordon assured the audience that his book turned out to be very detailed; however, he does not dismiss the possibility of other biographers choosing to re construct Carter’s life. He said, “It’s a question of emphasis. I think everyone who writes a biography would have a different perspective from me.”

The next event in the Manchester Writing Series takes place on March 9th and is entitled ‘Welsh Fiction in Translation’. The event welcomes Manon Steffan Ros and Llwyd Owen.

For more information, visit the Manchester Writing School events page.

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Pierangelly Del Rio

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