Two women, two writers, two recently published books, two cities. Both Ellie Harrison and Jemma Neville are striving to make positive differences in their respective communities and are here with fellow writer and social historian, Daniel Gray, to discuss the ideas behind, and beyond, their books.
Jemma Neville begins by reading the preamble to her debut work, Constitution Street, about the people from one street in Leith here in Edinburgh (Neville’s own street). She explores their stories, their views on the world today and asks all of the contributors about their relationship with anxiety. Neville explains how she explored the various meanings of the word ‘constitution’ when she started putting together her work and how the project introduced her to new faces and stories. Themes of self-care, of listening and understanding people who may have differing viewpoints to yours and the recurring idea at this year’s Book Festival that communities are at the heart of making a difference are discussed.
Neville comes across as a kind-hearted soul particularly supportive of Ellie Harrison when a heckler storms out during her reading. Host for the session, Gray, does an excellent job of bringing humour to the odd and rather unnerving interruption and to her credit, and perhaps having become used to the furore caused by her project back in 2016, Harrison carries on regardless.
Ellie Harrison is an artist most well-known for her controversial Creative Scotland funded project, ‘The Glasgow Effect’, which has lead to the book she is talking about today exploring themes of class, capitalism and carbon footprints. The initial art project caused a social media storm when she undertook a “durational performance” that saw her confined within the city walls for a year with only the use of a bike to get around. She hoped to gain a deeper understanding of the problems Glasgow faced but Harrison claims the project was taken out of context by the media who felt she was merely capitalising on the poverty so prevalent in Glasgow.
Both women answer some focussed and interesting questions about their books as Gray wraps proceedings up. For anyone interested in social history and the strength of communities, Constitution Street and The Glasgow Effect are sure to be fascinating reads.