The Words in My Hand – UK launch

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Lisa Highton, publisher Two Roads Books, opening the launch. (photo: Richard Youell)

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Dr Erik-Jan Bos, academic advisor on the book. (photo: Saskia Glasfurd-Brown)

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(photo: Kaddy Benyon)

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(photo: Siobhan Costello)

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(photo: Richard Youell)

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(photo: Saskia Glasfurd-Brown)

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Words of thanks from the launch:

I want to thank you all for being here tonight, for your support, and for sharing in the launch of my book.

I find it remarkable that I am standing here before you at all, with this, my book, this lovely lovely book, crafted with such care and brought into the world by my fine publishers, Two Roads Books.

I am hugely proud of this, but I know for certain that I would not be here talking to you without the love and support of a number of people and I’d like to thank them.

Firstly, to my husband, Damian, and my daughter, Saskia. I’d like thank them for bearing with me – for putting up with my ‘writer’s temperament’ and my ‘flexible working hours’ – mostly at night, any time between the hours of 2-6am.

Damian, thank you for bearing with my erratic ability to earn a living. Let’s see how sales go; you may yet have years of this to come!

To my daughter, Saskia – this is in many ways a book about mothers and daughters. Becoming a mother was one of the best things I did with my life. This book is for you.

Anni Domingo, Siobhan Costello – fellow writers, with whom I work regularly in a small, tightly-focused writing group. Thank you so much.

Cressida Downing. A new friend. A true friend. A friend who supplies gin and advice when needed.

Erik-Jan Bos – for patiently and kindly dealing with all manner of questions I had on Descartes and never once (not even when I asked you to describe Descartes in three words) making me feel stupid for asking.

Veronique Baxter – my agent – brilliant, sharp, dedicated – exactly what’s needed in an agent.

Lisa Highton, Fede Andornino, Lyndsey Ng – my publishers. The book would not be without you. You have carefully and skillfully steered me from bewildered writer to debut novelist and dealt kindly with my anxieties. The finished book is a real beauty and you should be congratulated for it.

Two Roads is a brilliant imprint; I have been well looked after and I am proud to be part of it.

Writers’ Centre Norwich Escalator programme, funded by Arts Council England, gave me the space and time (and funding), to develop this novel from an initial sketchy outline to its first draft. More importantly, I was able to move writing from the periphery to the centre of my life. The Escalator programme has launched again this week. It is a beacon and I would encourage other writers here to apply for it.

Finally, to my writing mentor, and all round fabulous person, novelist Louise Doughty. I have learned more about writing, and what it means to be a writer, from Louise than from anyone else.

Please join me in applauding them.

This is what it takes for this book to be. There’s something profound in this simple truth. No-one achieves anything truly worthwhile on their own. I don’t buy into the lonely genius in the attic scenario one little bit. And I think this applies as much to Descartes (which I hope is what my novel helps to reveal) as it does to me and my own book.

My novel tells the story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid, and her affair with Descartes. Today, he is known as the father of modern philosophy – but he certainly wasn’t that in the 1630s when he met Helena. I knew from the outset that I didn’t want to tell the story from Descartes’ point of view. So much has already been written about him.

Helena was not simply the ‘woman behind the great man’ – she was a person in her own right, with her own view of the world, her own struggles, her own thoughts, beliefs, experiences, wisdom. It mattered to me to tell her story.

She knew Descartes at a pivotal time in his life, and perhaps for a decade or more. It seemed to me that this key relationship in Descartes’ life had been overlooked, in some cases passed over or dismissed.

There is in part a reason for this – so few documents reference her – her life, like many women of her time, was not recorded.

If we know so little about her, can we say she truly matters?

Yes, we can. And I find it astonishing that even in 2016, it is still necessary to make the case for women’s stories to be told and placed on a level footing with men’s.

Telling Helena’s story helps us to see Descartes from an entirely different angle, and to reveal him as an entirely human man – flawed and loving, as we all are.

I’ll read from the opening of the novel now, and then after that copies of the book will be on sale and I’ll be happy to sign them.

Thank you Heffers for hosting this.

And thank you too. Without readers there would be no writers. I applaud you most of all. xxx

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