Grazia Book Club traveled to Nottingham Waterstone’s for a stellar event with the Man Booker prize nominee Emma Donoghue last week. Over M&S cupcakes and champagne the audience were enthralled by Emma explaining how her book ROOM – narrated by a 5-year-old unaware he’s being kept in captivity – came about. ‘I was listening to the radio reports about the Josef Fritzl case whilst driving one day and I just thought if you told that story from the perspective of the child it would be a very different story to the one adults hear,’ Emma said. Indeed it was. The startling novel is told from 5-year-old Jack’s eyes, as he grows up in a 10 foot by 10 foot room. He thinks his Ma making him scream at the skylight each day is a game rather than an attempt at escape and believes the world he sees on TV is make-believe.
Emma wrote the novel in less than six months, the fastest she’s ever written a book. And no doubt she was aided by her own children, especially her son Finn who was 4 at the time. ‘I’d study his language, especially the double negatives he got wrong and use them in Jack’s speech,’ she recalled. ‘And I even wrapped him up in a blanket and asked him to play dead, to reenact an escape scene I was writing for Jack. I wanted to know how hard it would be for a small boy to get himself out of the blanket and ended up having to rewrite it so it was more difficult.’ Ultimately, Emma insisted this was a novel about the extreme depths mothers go to in order to keep their kids safe. ‘I deliberately kept Old Nick [the captor] out of the novel because I didn’t want this to be about the sexual fantasies of captivity,’ she explained. ‘It’s about exploring how Ma is doing her best to create a safe world for her son in extraordinary circumstances.’ In writing some of the most moving scenes – when Ma hides Jack in a wardrobe so he doesn’t have to witness her brutal rape, for example – Emma sometimes felt inadequate herself as a mother, something she believes most women have experienced.
Her son Finn, now 6, started listening to the audio version of Room but found it too scary. But adults have fallen in love with it. Room is now a best-seller worldwide and Emma is already writing a screenplay from it. The novel was nominated for a Man Booker Prize before it was even published – something that was especially exciting for Emma as she’d dreamt about going to the ceremony since she was little. So did it live up to expectations? ‘I made sure I’d read all my fellow competitors novels before I got there, but no one else had which I thought was quite funny,’ she remembered. ‘It wasn’t exactly competitive but I do remember Peter Carey coming up to us afterwards saying “Losers”!’ Well, she might have lost the Man Booker prize but all of us attendees at the Grazia Book Club event at Nottingham Waterstone’s sure fell under her spell.