“Obviously it’s a feminist book,” says Kirsty Wark, in conversation with Book Festival director Nick Barley. “Because I’m a feminist.”
Wark is talking about her debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, a book which tells the intertwining tales of two women from different generations, set on the island of Arran. It is very much a work about the “interior life” of others; with its focus on family, memory and relationships, it is perhaps not the book some may have been expecting Wark to produce. But then, as she herself puts it, “why would I write a book about politics?”
Wark is passionate about stories, particularly those which deal with older people. Her main protagonist, ninety-year-old Elizabeth Pringle, lives a solitary existence in a grand old house on the Scottish island, whilst her other main character’s mother is suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Wark has not based the story on any particular personal episodes, though she does state that some characters are based on real people, those she “wanted to immortalise”. Other segments are inspired by anecdotes from friends whose relatives have been impacted by dementia; some by Wark’s own relationship with her mother. “There’s no family that’s not tricky,” she says. “There are no Waltons.”
When asked by Barley if she suffered nerves at putting her own work out for criticism, Wark replies that she has little right to. “I feel very passionate about this,” she says. “I’ve dished it out, so I should be able to take it.”
On the popularity of fiction, Wark has equally strong views, citing as “nonsense” the notion that there is any dumbing-down of society. “I can’t imagine a day without a book,” she says, and – judging from the response from the sell-out audience at this Open University event – she is most certainly not alone.