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Blake Morrison

11th May 2023

Our May event was another embarkation of exploration and discovery. We had the privilege of Blake Morrison stepping into the limelight to discuss his most recent, and perhaps, his most profound work to date, Two Sisters. Gill Lowe interviewed him, with targeted but gentle questions, probing into the harsh yet delicate nature of the memoir.

This blend of prose writing based on personal and individual experiences and reflections meandered differently to our usual fiction or poetical evenings. There was, from the start, a palpable spongy respect that settled in and amongst the audience, recognising that Morrison was going deep into his memory, his past and the analysis of all this. His sister Gill was resurrected with readings and insights, so that, despite her struggles, made her loving, unique and funny. Morrison delivered such a sense of person, we all felt like we had known a part of her too. In fact, he and she, born within sixteen months of each other, he joked were ‘Irish twins’, testament to their closeness. His other, half sister as he discovered later, Josie, was too brought to the forefront, in passing. Both sisters united he said in solemnity, in self-destruction.

The talk extended to the topic of memoir to his other works, such as And When Did You Last See Your Father? (1993). Morrison was emphatic in his belief that the book chooses you, rather than you choosing the book. He had never expected to write about his father with whom he had a difficult relationship. In fact, he admitted, he wrote to escape him. The same unexpected development occurred with this Two Sisters memoir.

However, his writing here, instead of being born from escapism, was an attempt to try and bring her back. Morrison was the older of the pair, and with Gill pre-deceasing him, there was both a guilt and a powerful sense of missing her, that showed in this memoir. But beyond the personal, this too is a novel about sibling relationships -- a subject that he has dedicated many hours of research into finding. This other aspect of the memoir allowed scope for ‘fun’, considering writing about other famous brother and sister relationships, helping the author to forensically examine his own.

Snagging this manuscript was the decision on whether or not to publish. As with his memoir about his father, he did the rounds, asking those closest to Gill their thoughts, and getting their blessing before moving forward. It showed that writing a memoir, where there isn’t a right of reply from the subject, or those mentioned, is a difficult precipice on which to walk, and whose permission he needed to seek to publish. But, on the other side, was his endeavour to honour the truth, and the nature of it. This wasn’t going to be some novelistic work grounded in fictional happenings he had conjured up. But equally, he deliberately followed the novelistic approach, providing plot, imagery, creative devices and even humour to bring his beloved sister to life, for readers, but fundamentally for him, to him.

Upon the discussion on where she is now? Well, oblivion, in death, as much as she sought it in life. But he likes to imagine her giving her his blessing, and even be pleased, in his endeavour to capture her, however small, committing their relationship, her alcohol struggles, and most tantamount, her memory, to the page.

James Phillips


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