If you’ve read Northern Soul‘s interview with Margaret Drabble, you’ll know how much we admire this literary legend. Earlier this month, we were in the audience as she spoke about her latest novel at the Midland Hotel as part of the Manchester Literature Festival.

After an introduction by Carol Ackroyd, Drabble launched into her speech, confidently and assertively addressing the room. She was elegantly dressed, spectacles perched on the end of her nose as she read from her latest book, The Pure Gold Baby.

She revealed that many people have approached her with stories of their own after reading this novel; stories about people like her character Anna, who has special needs. Drabble says that this new connection to her readers is extraordinary, and she feels humbled to be told of so many personal experiences.

The novel is based on a family she knows, and Drabble says that it’s a social history, concerned with the political correctness which surrounds people with special needs. She admits that she found it challenging to transform the story into a readable narrative, not wanting to offend anyone yet at the same time striving to present the truth.

Ackroyd led the room in questioning Drabble about some of her ideas and themes. In the past, Drabble has been accused of presenting men in an unsympathetic light, but she has included some benevolent male characters in Pure Gold Baby, musing that she has mellowed over the years. Her memory is admirable: she provides a detailed description about indoor fireworks in the book, a novelty which Ackroyd, and many of the audience members, had forgotten.

Her tone and passion are consistently enlightening, revealing how much her work means to her as she speaks to the audience as she would an old friend. And I suppose most of them are old friends. A largely female audience of a similar age, I later discover that many have been reading her novels for decades. Drabble always says that each book is her last (Pure Gold Baby included), but to the delight of her fans she reveals she is currently writing another novel on the subject of ageing. It seems that her intelligent prose and witty insights will continue for many years. Long may she write!

By Stephanie Alderson