Anyone who has read Sorrow and Bliss will understand the excitement surrounding author Meg Mason‘s visit to Oxford to talk about her global bestseller.
Because not only has it sold endless copies around the world, but is partly set in Oxford, written after Meg came here to get over her failed career as a novelist. (Yes truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.)
When Meg returned to Australia where she lives, Sorrow and Bliss poured out of her and while she never intended it to be published, (no one even knew she was writing it), it has resounded with people all over the world.
So why didn’t Meg realise how good it was, and what went wrong to make her give up writing altogether?
“I learned that you can’t always have what you want when you want it, but if you persevere you might get something better than you ever imagined”
“I took a year writing 85,000 words of a book I hadn’t even named, and then realised it was awful and trashed it. That was it. It was devastating and I gave up my career as a novelist and locked up my writing shed with a padlock.”
Instead Meg came to England, where she was born, to see her brother and his family in Oxford, get over the ordeal and have some time to process what had happened.
“I was in a diabolically dark place when I came to Oxford on my recovery trip. It was the end of my career and I’d walk the towpath every day misty-eyed.
“When I got home I began writing into a void, Oxford seemed the obvious place to set Sorrow and Bliss because it was fresh in my mind.”
“I had to get it out. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. I had to get it all down on a page. I WROTE MYSELF BETTER“
But why would you start writing again if you’ve just given up being an author? Isn’t that a form of masochism? “I had to get it out. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. I had to get it all down on a page and as Martha emerged from that place of failure, all my visceral rage, anger and disappointment was expelled. I wrote myself better.”
Sorrow and Bliss tells the story of Martha whose marriage ends, forcing her to return to her dysfunctional parents and childhood home in London to think about what went wrong.
“my first book signing was in London two days ago and the reaction was really quite extraordinary. Words fail me really”
And while mental health is at the very core of this precious novel, it is laugh out loud funny, beautifully observed and instantly recognisable. It is an absolute gem of a book and as soon as I’d finished it I turned it over and started again.
Lots of people have said it’s autobiographical though. Is that the case? “No, I am happily married and have two children in Australia, but like Martha I learned a really important lesson along the way – that you can’t always have what you want when you want it, but if you persevere you might get something else which could be even better than you ever imagined,” Meg says.
Once word did get out, the book went to auction, and the rest, as they say, is history. So did Meg know what big deal it was globally? “No, because Australia really is a very long way away, but I did my first book signing in London two days ago and the reaction was really quite extraordinary. Words fail me really,” she trails off.
Making the Longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022 and having the rights bought by the TV company who made 12 Years A Slave, must have also been an indicator?
“FROM THAT PLACE OF FAILURE, ALL MY VISCERAL RAGE, ANGER AND DISAPPOINTMENT WAS EXPELLED.”
“It’s very exciting , but I do feel like Sorrow and Bliss is back in its spiritual home coming back to Oxford, like we’ve come full circle. Oxford was at the beginning of the journey and now it’s at the end.
“Things have turned out even better than I could have ever imagined, and just like Martha’s story, they start in a really dark place and end up somewhere much more hopeful. I run out of words when I even think about it.” Her legions of fans hope not.
Waterstones have arranged for Meg Mason to be in conversation with Elizabeth Day in the East Writing School, Examination Schools, Uni of Oxford, 75 – 81 High St, Oxford, OX1 4BG on Friday 29th April at 7pm. Tickets at https://www.waterstones.com/events/meg-mason-in-conversation-with-elizabeth-day/oxford