The Art of Bibliotherapy, with Susan Elderkin
Have you been lifted out of a rut by a story that’s changed the way you see something? Or experienced the power of fiction to transport and to transform, to resonate with something deep within, to shift perspective, to inspire? Then you are ready for the literary cure and Susan’s compendium of remedies for everything that might afflict you, from a broken heart to a broken leg, from lethargy to sibling rivalry, from the hiccups to birthday blues and looking for Mr or Mrs Right.
Susan Elderkin and her friend and co-author Ella Berthoud have long believed in the power of literature, both classic and contemporary, to change readers in fundamental ways – whether as a result of the rhythm of the prose, the story itself, or an intimate acquaintance with the characters. They have been giving novels to one another to help with the highs and lows of life since they met as students twenty-five years ago. The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies, which they published last year, is a distillation of this experience.
In her talk, Susan will describe how The Novel Cure came to be, how she and Ella matched ailments to cures, and how they do not distinguish between pain of the mind or heart and pain of the body. They have rescued the term ‘bibliotherapy’ from the domain of the self-help book and helped bring it back into vibrant use. She will explore fascinating elements of the reading experience: why is it that some novels affect us more than others? Knowing how influenced we can be by a book, absent your from your own life? Or does it plunge you more intensely in?
The Novel Cure is a brilliant idea and it is tremendous fun. Writers and journalists such as Blake Morrison, Robert McCrum, Jay Rayner have written about it, people from all walks of life have tried it, enjoyed it, benefitted from it and been amazed. Allain de Botton’s School of Life has taken it up and you can sign in for a session there with Susan and Ella. Oxford now has its own bibliotherapy project, libraries across the land do it, the Welsh NHS offers it and Medical staff tell stories of the remarkable successes they've seen. Susan will be your literary personal trainer tonight with a measured dose of prose for your existential crisis.
At the end of her talk, Susan will invite volunteers from the audience to prostrate themselves on her metaphorical couch for a bibliotherapy session. After (gently) probing them for their current preoccupations, dilemmas and grievances – be they situational, emotional, physical, or perhaps something to do with reading itself – she and the audience will together attempt to prescribe some spontaneous literary cures. Come with your ailments – and recommendations – at the front of your mind!
Susan is best known as a fiction writer (see books) The author of two prize-winning novels (Sunset over Chocolate Mountains and The Voices) she was listed by Granta magazine in 2003 as one of the top 20 young novelists in the UK. Her work as a journalist, book reviewer and travel writer has appeared in all the major papers including the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Observer, the Daily Telegraph.
When she’s not writing, she’s often teaching others to write: she has taught on some of the most prestigious MA courses in the country, including Birkbeck and Goldsmith's in London, and is herself a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia (where she studied with Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain).
She met her best friend Ella Berthoud when they were studying English at Cambridge nearly 25 years ago. They began giving novels to one another whenever one of them needed a boost – or a gentle kick. In 2008, they started to call what they did 'bibliotherapy', and their recommendations ‘prescriptions’, and they founded the now thriving Bibliotherapy Service at The School of Life in London. They now write a regular Novel Cure column in the Independent Magazine, as well as regular blogs for Red magazine and Psychology Today. They are currently working on a Novel Cure for Kids (working title) which is due to be published in 2016.
Their book, The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies, was published last year by Canongate, and is gradually appearing in countries all round the world, including India, China and Russia. A one-time Somerset girl, Susan currently lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with her husband and young son.
Signed copies of The Novel Cure will be on sale at a special, slashed Ebenezer rate!