An evening with Audrey Niffenegger

I am finally back home after 10 days of excitement. Hopefully things will get back to normal soon and I’ll be able to catch up with all your blogs in the next few days. I had a very good time at the Cheltenham Book Festival and hope to write a few posts about what I saw in the next few days.

audreyLast night I went into London to see Audrey Niffenegger talk about her new book, Her Fearful Symmetry, with Claire and Rachel. We had a wonderful evening and I thought I’d let you know a few of the most interesting things that Audrey Niffenegger talked about.


  • The title of her book came about as she loved the sound of Philip Pullman’s title, His Dark Materials, and wanted to find something with a similar ring. She found the right words in William Blake’s poem, The Tiger.
  • Her Fearful Symmetry is written in British English and it took her a long time to get used to the differences between American English and British English.
  • While researching the book she worked as a guide in Highgate Cemetery.
  • Audrey Niffenegger is a big fan of graphic novels and her favourite is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I loved it – if you haven’t read it then I recommend you try to get hold of a copy soon.
  • Her favourite novel is The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I haven’t read it yet, but on her recommendation I plan to get a copy soon. Have you read it?
  • She is currently working on a new book called The Chinchilla Girl in Exile which centers on a nine-year-old girl with hypertrichosis, a genetic condition that causes her face and body to be covered with hair.
  • She hasn’t seen the Time Traveller’s Wife film and has no plans to do so. She had no involvement with the making of it and was quite upset that it was filmed in Toronto instead of Chicago.
  • Her disappointment over the filming in Toronto means that she hasn’t sold the rights to Her Fearful Symmetry yet. She wants to ensure that any filming would take place in Highgate Cemetery before an agreement can be reached.

I was very impressed with Audrey Niffenegger. She answered every question thoughtfully and with an honesty I haven’t seen with other authors. If you get the chance to see her then I recommend you grab the opportunity – she remains one of my favourite authors!

Come back later for a review of Her Fearful Symmetry.

Have you seen Audrey Niffenegger?

62 replies on “An evening with Audrey Niffenegger”

It’s lovely when the authors are as good as their books! Niffenegger sounds fascinating and I am impressed at the level of her research. I’ll be reading her fearful symmetry soon.

By the way I haven’t read ‘The turn of the screw’ but the old black and white film made of it ‘The Innocents’ gave me nightmares when I first saw in many years ago – so chilling and atmospheric.

Annabel, I’m scared now! I’m not sure I want to read something that will give me nightmares – I’ll have to ensure I only read it during the day when there are lots of other people in the house!

I’m soooo jealous Jackie!! It must have been a great experience to hear A N speak about her books and writing processes. I have read lots of interviews with her and she always comes across as such an interesting person with such a variety of talents. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts about Her Fearful Symmetry – I will post my thoughts on it soon too.

Karen, She is such an intersting person – I could talk to her for days! I look forward to comparing notes on HFS.

It was so lovely to meet you Jackie! It was brilliant, wasn’t it?! I am so intrigued by the sound of her new idea, though I wonder how that will develop over time…Her Fearful Symmetry changed so much from her original plot!

Rachel, I’m not sure I like the sound of her new book either – it sounds quite voyeuristic. I’m sure she’ll make it into something wonderful though – as you say she does change things a lot from her original ideas.

I am so jealous that you met up with Claire and Rachel and had a girls evening in London! And to see AN! She never comes to Orlando! (I wouldn’t either, if I were her. It has been so oppressively HOT.) I’ve never read TTW, which makes me feel ashamed, but I am right in the middle of HFS. For all the bad and good that I’ve read, I must say that I am immensely enjoying the read. I love Niffenberger’s style of writing, and the twins are bewitching. I’ll look forward to your review!

Sandy, I’m sorry to hear that you are suffering from the heat. I wish that you were able to join us and hope that you are able to see AN at some point.

I’m pleased that you are enjoying HFS and am sure that you’ll love TTW too.

The subject of her next novel sounds very intriguing. I’ll have to find her second novel soon, but I don’t think it’s available here yet. Hopefully soon.

Will look forward to more updates Jackie.

Life is a Festival, I agree – she seems to be striking the right balance betwen being an artist and an author. She has an amazing talent and I am really pleased that I was able to hear her talk.

Sounds like you had a brilliant time. I have read ‘The Turn of the Screw’. It was creepy and very well written but it’s quite ambiguous which left me confused. I saw ‘The Innocents’ the other day too which is very creepy – possibly more so because it’s old-fashioned!

I’m looking forward to getting my mitts on Her Fearful Symmetry and finding out if Henry James has influenced her…

I see you are reading Rebecca (also creepy!) it’s one of my favourites and I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

Novel Insights, I am even more intrigued now – I like ambiguous!

I am loving Rebecca so far – I think it might become one of my favourites too!

I hope you enjoy HFS and can let me know about the James influence. See you soon!

I was very envious to hear about this from Claire; I’m not a huge AN fan but it is so interesting to hear author’s talk, especially one who is so popular. And how lucky you were to all be able to meet up!

Verity, I don’t think you needed to be a AN fan to enjoy her talk. She was so intelligent and thoughtful, I’m sure you’d have loved her. I hope that we can meet up at some point as it would be nice to put a face to the blog.

Welcome back, Jackie. I haven’t seen Niffenegger but I have read The Turn of the Screw – you’ll love it.

I did Tiger for A-level. It’s part of the Songs of Innocence and Experience, whcih are two sets of parallel poems, one idealistic and naive, the other cynical, frightened, and not a little frightenING – I haven’t read Her Fearful Symmetry (well, I say I haven’t read – I haven’t BOUGHT yet, waiting for payday, but I’ve read plenty in Borders – amazing voice she has), but from the cover and the twin thing I’m guessing that’s significant.

Interesting that she’s into graphic novels – one of the things I thought about her voice is that it’s very uncluttered, which is like graphic novels where you don’t need unnecessary (sorry for tautology) description because it’s in the pictures. I think what many authors don’t realise is that if you wrote a book as though there were pictures conveying the description, only cut the pictures at the last minute so it was just text, the reader wouldn’t be lost and unanchored, but they WOULD notice how much cleaner and mor elegant and flowing your writing had become. It’s a scary thing to do as an author, but a very good exercise – I wonder if Niffenegger has done it subconsciously (or maybe it’s the other way round – that she’s attracted to graphic novels because of how she writes).

Dan, AN writes graphic novels too. That is probably why she is able to write in such an uncluttered way. I haven’t read any of her graphic stories – I really need to do something about that soon.

I’m pleased that you think I’ll enjoy the Turn of the Screw. I hope I can hold of a copy soon.

It sounds like you had an absolutely fabulous time last night! I have yet to read The Time Traveler’s Wife, although it is sitting on my night stand ready to go. I have vowed to read that novel first before purchasing Her Fearful Symmetry, even though I think this latest book is more my style. I enjoyed her explanation of how she developed the title!

I read The Turn of the Screw two summers ago for a Victorian Literature course and I did enjoy it. As Novel Insights said, the ending is quite ambiguous, but I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel — it almost reveals more about the reader (given how he/she is prone to interpret the ending) than it does about the author.

I look forward to reading more of your posts regarding the Cheltenham Book Festival

Molly, I’m sure you’ll love both books. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on them.

I am going to have to get the Turn of the Screw very soon. I hate not knowing what you are talking about!

I hope to have my first Cheltenham Book festival post up tomorrow, but I haven’t started writing it yet!

Life is a Festival, I love the way that the Cheltenham festival uses great interviewers – I think it really improved the talks.

I am so jealous! How awesome that you can just up and go to London to see this famous author?! I have yet to read either of her books (I know, what a shame) but I don’t think I’ll see the movie either. I’m just not a fan of movies in general.

Lilly, I really need to make the most of living near London – I haven’t been active in looking for events, but I hope to change that in the future.

Whoa, very interesting about Niffenegger having nothing to do with TTW Movie. I really wish authors always had their say in the movies because then we would have all around better movies. And if things changed we could just say, well, the author thought it was okay, so I think it’s okay. Like the discrepancies in Jurassic Park. Since Michael Crichton wrote the screenplay, I can’t get too mad about it.

TTW is one of my favorite books and I can’t wait to read Her Fearful Symmetry. Her new book sounds even more interesting. Niffenegger sounds like a really interesting woman and I’m super jealous you got to see her speak!

I didn’t love The Turn of the Screw, but I read it quite a few years ago. I’ll probably give it another shot here one day.

Lu, I agree – I wish authors had more to do with the screenplays. I did love the TTW film though, so can’t complain too much.

When I was quite small, I read the Classic Comics version of The Turn of the Screw, and it gave me nightmares for a week. I can still see the illustrations from that version, and they give me the shivers. It’s silly, but I can’t bring myself to read the proper version.

Glad you enjoyed Audrey Niffenegger so much! She sounds lovely.

Jenny, I really hope that it doesn’t give me nightmares – I’ll let you know how much it affects me!

Thanks for reporting back! I loved Fun Home too. 🙂 I did not love The Turn of the Screw-and I’m a huge fan of James’ novels, so that surprised me. I think eventually I should reread it, but not for a few years yet!

If I were an author, I would only sell the film rights if I desperately needed money. And couldn’t find a job anywhere. I almost always avoid movies based on books I’ve loved!

Eva, It is rare for the film to be better than the book, but I do enjoy seeing how it has been adapted for the big screen. If I was an author I’d love my book to be made into a movie, but would hope they did a good job – it is a probably good that will never happen – I imagine I’d be devestated if they messed it up!

Stephanie, I love finding out where book titles come from – especially when they have such interesting origins.

Steph, Thanks for the link to the review. It sounds better all the time! I’ll make sure I read it when I don’t have any distractions, so I can concentrate on the difficult language.

How exciting! I’m so glad you had a good time. Her next novel sounds so interesting and different.

I can understand how she would be upset about the film adaptation. I haven’t seen it yet. I’m just not sure how you would go about doing it justice.

I won a signed first edition of Her Fearful Symmetry. I found out that my review was judged as one of her literary agents’ 10. I was so thrilled when it arrived on Saturday. Hopefully someday I’ll make it to one of her book signings so I can meet her in person.

Thank you so much for sharing!

Literate Housewife, Congratulations on writing a top 10 review! I’ll go and read it later – I’m avoiding all reviews until I’ve written mine.

I actually read The Turn of the Screw this past weekend – while I wouldn’t add it to my all-time favourites list, I liked it a lot. And how great that she loves Fun Home too! It sounds like you had a wonderful time 🙂

Nymeth, I look forward to your The Turn of the Screw review. Fun Home is great – more people should read it, so I’m pleased that she promotes it.

Melody, I haven’t been to many author events, but I am going to try to seek out all my favourite authors at some point.

Oh Jackie, I’m SO jealous, I would have loved to see her!! I could have come down to London too, but hey, next time I think I’ll actually do it. Thanks for the tidbits about her and the new book, I love bits of info like that!

Joanna, I didn’t realise you lived near London. Whereabouts do you live? It would be nice to meet up at some point, so keep an eye out for authors in London – I’ll be happy to come along too!

Lucky you, Jackie! I can’t wait to read her latest book. Thanks for the Niffenegger trivia too. Interesting that she hasn’t seen the movie of TTTW; I haven’t either because I’m afraid it’s going to ruin the story for me.

I loved Fun Home (I just read it recently), but I’ve never read anything by Henry James. Judging from the other comments you’ve gotten on The Turn of the Screw, I’m intrigued!

avisannchild, I don’t think that watching the movie of TTW ruins the book. I was worried about it, but I thought it was very well done.

Joanna, Wow! It would have to be a very special event for me to go to Brussels – I don’t think Audrey Niffenegger would qualify unless it was to meet her personally for a day! You must be a really big fan!

I like coming to the UK anyway so it would be nice to do a trip around something like an author I really like… It’s only about 2 hours on the train and there are always things to do in London to make the trip worth it! 🙂

Joanna, Let me know if any literary events in London catch your eye – I’ll be happy to meet up with you to attend one.

The Turn of the Screw was good but in the vein of The Little Stranger where scientific explanation is pitted against supernatural (it was probably one of Sarah Waters’ influences) and has probably been mentioned a lot recently -as it was by AN for same reason- because it is a perfect haunting read for the season. AN also mentioned The Woman in White (also very popular just now) on Tuesday night and I noticed its influence on HFS.

Claire, I managed to get a copy of ‘Turn of the Screw’ from the library at the weekend, so I look forward to comparing it to LS. I also plan to read The Woman in White soon – I have a copy ready for Simon’s sensation season – hopefully I’ll get to it in November.

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