Part of me was dreading this event. We had to read The Northern Clemency for 'Contemporary Fiction.' It's a long book and some of us reckoned it would have been just as good, if not better, at half the length. You can imagine our faces when Philip Hensher said that, when he started writing the novel, he thought it was going to be quite short at only 150 pages or so. He did apologise for the length.
I half expected that the author of a long novel would be long-winded and boring. Luckily this wasn't the case at all - Hensher has a good sense of humour and wasn't afraid to make his audience laugh.
There was a particularly interesting discussion about authors basing fiction on their own life and experiences. In the writing world, authors can be slammed for blatant "self-inserts" in their novels. However, Hensher explained some parts of his novel that were based on his experiences, and no one criticised these because they work and aren't obvious. He laughed, "The more I tell you it was based on my own life the more I sound like I can't make stuff up" - something I too have struggled with.
Finding the balance is hard, but I guess that's what editors are for. His advice was to use editors when possible: it's what they're there for, after all.