Brighton Festival: Sara Pascoe, Weirdo, Corn Exchange, Brighton Dome

Brighton Festival: Sara Pascoe, Weirdo, Corn Exchange, Brighton Dome

It’s a low key entrance as the two British Sign Language interpreters lead the single file entry onto stage, followed by award-winning novelist Emma Jane Unsworth (set as interviewer), and finally Sara Pascoe bringing up the rear. Her name may be the biggest one on the ticket, ready to discuss her writing process, debut novel Weirdo, and her life, but there’s a low key demystification and undermining of hierarchical norms in casual exchanges and easy respect from the off. She’s sharing her experience readily, without entitlement, and with humour and a delightfully engaging degree of candour. Gently teasing elements of Weirdo’s plot and characters, sharing her enthusiasm for voracious reading, leading into her determination to write a novel and not just a piece of “merch” hawked after regular stand-up gigs.

The novel’s heroine Sophie is an outsider – or weirdo. Pascoe gently iterates that everyone is a ‘weirdo’ in some way, even the so-called ‘normal’ people. And her background as a Sussex Uni English Lit graduate, casually mentioned to cheers from local students of her alumni, appears to inform her enjoyment in Sophie being an unreliable narrator. You just can’t trust what she says, what with her being both a liar and delusional, the double whammy.

There’s a generosity of information from both Pascoe’s answers and Unsworth’s questions, telling of their pre-existing relationship that gives the vibe that new information is still unfolding to them both about the nature of how much is blurred between real life and fiction. It’s a live conversation, not a rehashed one. They swap tips on hiding real life people in characters with the change of a haircut, and the genuine problems of possible litigation or offence, alongside the question of what truth actually is – as every witness has their own idea of an event. There’s a palpable gasp when the floor is opened to questions and Pascoe is asked her opinion on the current attention fellow comic Richard Gadd’s ‘Baby Reindeer’ Netflix show is receiving along these lines. It’s a hotter topic than you’d normally expect on a book tour.

With her intelligent and thoughtful answers there’s an accessible and humorous academia-lite in Pascoe’s conversation, expected and enjoyed in her previous non fiction books. The revelation she discovered when her own similarities to her protagonist Sophie were drawn to her attention comes across as open and honest, even as the broader strokes of her own postpartum writing period of loneliness are hardly identical to Sophie’s circumstances. The conversation goes off topic at times, but is never less than engaging and interesting, funny and considered.

Of course I bought the book afterwards. The job of the talk achieved, and the tribe of public and closeted weirdos promised in publication too eccentric to resist.

The Brighton Festival finishes on May 26.

Buy Weirdo here.
Picture: Rachel Sherlock


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