Sarah Perry

The tradition of transgressive writing by women was the focus of this Writers’ Centre Norwich event.

Fiona Sampson focused on Mary Shelley’s ground breaking science fiction work Frankenstein, Sarah Perry on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Peggy Hughes on Muriel Spark’s Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The extent to which these authors’ life experiences influenced their writing was a key theme explored by host Caroline O’Donoghue. Perry fiercely defended the power of imagination but Sampson’s tales of Shelley learning to read by tracing her mother’s name on a gravestone suggested the Gothic might at least sometimes be generated by events.

Hughes was keen to stake out Spark’s claim to be a poet, and a deeper writer than her short form works might suggest – rebuffing a critic’s “creepish” label of “stories about kinky nuns”.

Perry gave the most impassioned views – talking “as a lover” rather than an author – positing that “great books grow up with you”.

Perhaps that lasting dialogue, rather than whether imagination or biography is the source, is the most important thing.