An edifying evening was had by all. Jackie Kay is a warm and engaging speaker; we had much to learn from her tips and insights. The challenges of autobiography particularly came to light, with Jackie’s assurances that “memoir has more fiction to it than fiction” and “all narrators are unreliable”. She also discussed the concept of the “windy space”, which many adopted children feel within themselves; and perhaps this relates, also, to a certain loneliness that drives all writers.
Jackie spoke elequently on the tricks of time and memory, and the principle of dualism: that all of us can imagine parallel versions of ourselves branching off at any given moment, based on apparently casual and yet life-changing decisions. Possibly the saddest moment quoted from her celebrated autobiographical novel, Red Dust Road, was Jackie’s birth mother finally surrounded by her various daughters from different relationships, but at a point in time when dementia had robbed her of the ability to discern their identities.
Jackie recommends “crop rotation” between poems and novels, for those of us working across modes (so as never to become demoralised by the inevitably failed pages). The enduring memory of any encounter with Jackie is of a sense of reverence for life, and gratitude for all that it offers – good and bad.