Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An Introduction to Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively was born on March 17, 1933 in Cairo, Egypt. At the age of 12 she was sent to school in England and in 1956 she graduated with a degree in History from St. Anne's College, Oxford University. Lively still lives in England with her husband Jack, who is a Professor of Politics at the University of Warwick. She has two children: Adam, who published his first novel at 26, and Josephine, who is an oboist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Lively began writing in 1970 and her work is generally concerned with the continuity of past and present, and with the relationship between personal memory and history. She says, "Perhaps what I'm interested in... is the operation of memory, the ways in which the physical world is composed of memory, the ways in which it's an encumbrance and the ways in which it's an asset... I can hardly decide which it is. But it's something that I'm constantly aware of and constantly seeing new ways of exploring fictionally." Other frequent themes in Lively's books are death and loss; for example, The House at Norham Gardens is concerned with Claire and the not-too-distant deaths of her great Aunts, and what it will mean to her when both her parents are already dead.

Lively's children's books include:

1970 Astercote (About a village that's literally trapped in the past - Review)
1971 The Whispering Knights (About 3 children who decide to re-create a Witch's Brew, and the consequences that accrue - Review)
1971 The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy (What happens when an ancient ritual is performed in the modern day - Review)
1972 The Driftway (About a boy who comes to terms with his stepmother after a series of "encounters" with people from the past - Review)
1973 The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (About a ghost who thinks a 20th century boy is his latest apprentice - Review)
1974 The House in Norham Gardens (About an orphan girl who faces up to the knowledge that she will lose her guardian aunts in the not-too-distant future - Review)
1975 Boy Without a Name (About a nameless boy who learns to be a stonemason and earns a name for himself - Review)
1976 A Stitch in Time (About a girl who finds links with the past via a sampler - Review)
1978 The Voyage of QV66 (A futuristic tale with a dystopian theme – and talking animals - Review)
1981 The Revenge of Samuel Stokes (About a ghost who objects to a modern building developing that's been created on the site of his landscaped masterpiece - Review)
1984 Uninvited Ghosts and Other Stories (A collection of short stories - Review)

Since the publication of her first novel, Astercote in 1970, Lively has developed into a writer who is as prolific as she is wide-ranging. She is the author of over forty novels, short story collections and children’s fiction, and has published in everything from The Literary Review to Woman’s Own, from Cosmopolitan to Books and Bookmen. As the diversity of publications suggests, Lively’s work appeals to both a youthful, popular audience keen to find escape within a good book, and to an academic audience, which is interested in her experimental narrative techniques and her creation of what post-modern scholars sometimes refer to as "historiographical metafiction".

In discussing her storytelling, Lively has this to say:

"In writing fiction I am trying to impose order upon chaos, to give structure and meaning to what is apparently random. People have always sought explanations and palliatives for the arbitrary judgements of fate. I am an agnostic, and while I would not suggest the construction of fiction as an alternative to religious belief, it does seem to me that many writers - and I am certainly one - look at it as an opportunity to perceive and explain pattern and meaning in human existence. I am also deeply conscious of the limitations of experience - the sense in which the writer is fettered by gender, age and social and historical context. It seems to me that the challenge of writing novels and short stories is to transcend and translate personal experience, to try to give a universal and comprehensible significance to things which seem part of the fortuitous scenery of one's own life. But a view of the world is essentially and inevitably a personal one, conditioned by circumstance; I write within the English tradition of saying serious things in a relatively light-hearted way. Two of the qualities I most admire in other writers are accuracy and concision - the ability to say most by saying least; with this in mind what I am always trying to do is to find ways of translating ideas and observations into character and narrative. The short story can act as a concentrated beam of light; the novel is a more expansive and dispersed reflection. They do different things, I think, but both depend upon selection and metamorphosis - taking from life the situations that seem to offer insights, and then giving them the form and discipline of fiction." (From the Contemporary Writers site.)

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