Armistead Maupin: You have to be a feminist to write good female characters

Sunday 23 February 2014

Damian Barr’s Literary Salon took place for the first time at the London St Pancras Renaissance hotel last Tuesday, which was handy for some of the guests..


Patrick Gale appeared, reading from a novel-in-progress that is so fresh he was writing it on the train. Fortunately, he made it to St Pancras all the way from waterlogged Cornwall, despite transport chaos…

First-time novelist Kirsty Wark also read from her new work, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle (Two Roads, 13 March) and was candid about the process of becoming a solitary writer after 20 years of working with BBC2’s Newsnight. team. “My characters became my team,” she said.

The headline act at the Salon was Armistead Maupin, on the last date of his UK tour, reading from the last book in his Tales of the City series. It was therefore an emotional affair, not least when Barr read from his own memoir, Maggie & Me, the section in which the teenaged Barr discovers Maupin’s books in a Virgin Megastore in Brighton.

The level of celebrity fandom for Maupin was proved by the stampede to lend him a pair of reading glasses when he revealed that his had been lost somewhere on tour.

Kirsty Wark was first to the stage, but her glasses turned out to be too dirty.

Ben Bradshaw MP, sitting at the back of the room, and the writer Polly Samson, behind a pillar, were too slow.

But the novelist Louisa Young’s glasses were just right: Maupin delighted the audience with his chosen reading about the purpose of a hand-knitted twat cosy, even if it did make everyone else’s specs steam up.

A lesson to all writers from Maupin: “To write good female characters you have to be a feminist. You have to have the point of view that a woman is a person just like you, and start from there.”

The literary salon tends to have a signature cocktail, but in other news, Danny Wallace is brewing a beer to promote his novel Who is Tom Ditto? (Ebury Press, April).

Tom Ditto IPA will be available from Nicholson’s pubs, and the book promoted on special beermats.

“I have done my best to brew the greatest beer of all time,” says Wallace, “which I fully intend to enter into the Booker Prize next year.”

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