Tag Archives: Justine Picardie

Now We Are Six!!!!!!

“Happy Birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy blogging birthday dear Savidge Reads, happy birthday to me…” Imagine that sung in my most beautiful of singing voices! Yes, today Savidge Reads is officially six years old though weirdly it feels older than that. It was six years to this very day that I first put my tentative toes (or tapping fingers) into the blogosphere and wrote a review, of sorts though I am quite embarrassed by it now, of Susan Hill’s ‘The Various Haunts of Men’. More dreadful reviews/bookish thoughts followed, most of which I have since deleted because they were mortifying, and no one read it for ages and ages. And now here were are…

Now We Are Six

To actually celebrate a blog birthday seemed rather a bonkers idea in years past, however this year with all that has gone on (and, without blowing my own trumpet, the fact that the blog went to number one here) The Beard decided we should celebrate it and has only gone and made me the blog-birthday cake above – any excuse for us to eat cake – and also bought me two new books. This was made all the more special as they came with the Books Are My Bag bag after a little jaunt out yesterday to Linghams. Anyway the books are ‘Coco Chanel; The Life and the Legend’ by Justine Picardie (which I was so sure I had in hardback but couldn’t find the other day) and ‘New Ways To Kill Your Mother’ by Colm Toibin (the title of which I love) which is some literary history and criticism all rolled into one I believe. Both non-fiction too as now I am six I really feel I should be challenging myself more.

I am also going to have a little mini bookish party of my own later today as I finally settle down to read (in big fat gulps) my current bookish obsession ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton. But before that we are off on a Famous Five like adventure to a lighthouse. I am hoping for a picnic with some of that cake with lashings of ginger beer or pink lemonade once we get there.

Anyway, a big thanks to those of you who have joined in the fun here at Savidge Reads over the last few years and all the lovely bookish banter and the like, it has been bloody lovely. Here’s to the next six…

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If the Spirit Moves You; Life and Love After Death – Justine Picardie

I was having a major sort out of all of my TBR when Justine Picardie’s nonfiction book ‘If the Spirit Moves You’ caught my eye, which I have had in the TBR pile for years and years. I had oddly been having a chat with one of my friends about spiritualism and my encounters with mediums, of which there have been a few, and so I thought that maybe this book and its subject matter might be just the thing I could do with reading at the moment. It could equally have been the exact thing not to read at the moment but I decided to give it a whirl anyway.

Picador Books, paperback, 2002, fiction, 227 pages, from my personal TBR

Ruth Picardie died of breast cancer in September 1997. A well known journalist she chronicled her time living with breast cancer for the Observer magazine which her sister, writer and journalist Justine Picardie, was working for at the time and encouraged. ‘If the Spirit Moves You’ is Justine’s account of a year, from Good Friday in 2000 to Easter Monday 2001, in which she decided to see if she could contact the spirit of Ruth in some way and come to terms furthermore with her untimely death and the grief and loss still very much at the heart of her life since her sisters passing.

With a book such as ‘If the Spirit Moves You’ it is really hard to try and compare it with anything else you have read. In the form of diary entries Justine lets us into the world of the many mediums she visits and investigates things such as EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) and automatic writing in her venture to try and contact Ruth in some way. This is all rather fascinating, if fascinating is the right word, especially when so desperate to talk to her sister she even enrols in a school for mediums to see if she can communicate with Ruth herself and try and see if the voice of Ruth she gets in her head is her own self projections, she freely admits that she has an ‘internal psychologist’ analysing what she says and thinks, or is it actually the spirit of her sister.

You can probably guess already that ‘If the Spirit Moves You’ is much more than just a nonfiction account of Picardie seeing if there is an afterlife or not and indeed if we can communicate with it or not. It is also a book very much about grief and the process that we have to go through in order to grieve ourselves as well as how other people deal with it. Her husband at the time she writes, Neill, loses his sister, the singer Kirsty MacColl, and deals with his own grief in a very different way. She also looks at how her father, who leads talks in Kabbalah, deals with it and looks at religion and if it is

The honesty with which the book is written can sometimes be incredibly raw and quite difficult to read, though I do urge you all to read it, as there are moments when Justine portrays not only those around her, but also herself, in some very unflattering lights. Yet this is what we are like with grief, we can become internal or go to the complete opposite side of the spectrum being incredibly audibly, and rather angrily, vocal about how we feel. I really admired Picardie for doing this and being brave enough both to write about her sister’s death and how it left her feeling and how she dealt with it. I don’t know if many could write so honestly, with such emotion and also, it should be mentioned, with such wit too and without any judgement on the people she meets who deal with the afterlife, or possibly do, along the way.

I think ‘If the Spirit Moves You’ is a rather incredible book. Due to everything going on it could have been a slightly bad choice of timing reading wise but actually it was a consolation in some ways. I did have to laugh as I took it to Grans last week and after leaving it on the side without thinking, which could have proved very tactless; Gran spotted it and asked me all about it. Interestingly she said ‘Simon, when I am gone, don’t waste your time seeing those people. You’ll know if and when I am there.’ I told her I wouldn’t mind if she haunted me, depending what mood she was in or what I was up to because we always have that hope don’t we?

Like I said, a definite recommendation from me. It has made me want to read Ruth Picardie’s ‘Before I Say Goodbye’ too.

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Justine Picardie Joins ‘Discovering Daphne’ Part One…

In the first of two special interviews for ‘Discovering Daphne’ I get to grill the lovely Justine Picardie about her novel Daphne and the wonderful woman who inspired it…

Before I opened the first page of ‘Daphne’ I did expect it just to be about Daphne Du Maurier, instead we have a tale of Daphne, Bramwell Bronte and an unnamed narrator, which reflects Rebecca. Was Daphne’s the story you wanted to tell in the main, or was it one of the other characters that started it all and Daphne suddenly popped in unannounced?

The origins of ‘Daphne’ are in one sense very simple — I’d loved reading her novels since childhood, and had a powerful attachment to the Cornish landscape that she describes — but as is often the case with writing, there was a far more complicated alchemy that formed a catalyst for the beginnings of my novel. I wrote an introduction for a Virago edition of ‘The King’s General’ in 2003, which prompted my return to the mysterious place that is Menabilly — Du Maurier’s beloved house near Fowey, an inherent element of ‘Rebecca’ and ‘The King’s General’, although uninhabited and close to ruin when she wrote ‘Rebecca’ (indeed, it was the huge success of this novel that allowed Du Maurier to lease Menabilly from the Rashleigh family, and finance its restoration). Two years later, I wrote a second introduction for Virago — this time for ‘The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte’ — and was fascinated by the book, and by Du Maurier’s dedication of her work to the Bronte scholar, Symington. Coincidentally — or perhaps this was one of those apparently magical instances of synchronicity — I was already intrigued by the mysterious Mr Symington, having already encountered him in my research while I was working on a chapter entitled ‘Charlotte Bronte’s Ring’ for my previous book, ‘My Mother’s Wedding Dress’. All of which probably sounds impossibly tanged a tale, but seemed to resonate for me.

Daphne was a very complex woman from what we read about her, how did you go about getting into her head? Being a fan of hers, which you clearly are, were you adding pressure on yourself that this had to be right? How did you find her narrative voice?

I read and read and read — every word that she had written — her novels, short stories, letters, notes, memoirs — and immersed myself in the Du Maurier archive at Exeter University, and other archival collections elsewhere. Perhaps I wasn’t in her head, but her voice was certainly in mine.

The research in the book is incredible, yet at no point did I think ‘oh Justine is just showing off now’ which can happen with some books that have a biographical and indeed historical element. How did you do the research for this book and how did you manage not to include every single fascinating fact you discovered along the way?

Thank you! Whenever and whatever I am writing — whether about the history of nineteenth psychical investigations in ‘If The Spirit Moves You’, or during the years of research for my most recent book, ‘Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life’ — I immerse myself in archives and museums and  libraries, as well as doing hundreds of interviews with the relevant people who can provide insight, advice, and expert knowledge on the subject matter. Then I sift through it all, cross reference, obsess, analyse, dream, debate with myself and others — and finally start to write. As I write, the details of the research permeate my text, but don’t always appear — so the facts  are very much in my mind, and between the lines, rather than being obviously inserted into the story.

I don’t know about you but I have fantasy dinner parties in my head, and I think, along with Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier would have to be one of the top guests I imagine I could invite every time. Getting to know her in the way you must have researching this book did you think you would like her?

She might not have been comfortable company, but I always like the person I’m writing about — actually, that’s an understatement — they become central to my thoughts.

Having read Daphne’s childhood memoirs ‘Growing Pains’, which I have since learnt has been republished as ‘Myself When Young’, I noticed the mention of ‘The Snow Queen’ in the form of her mother, there always seemed to be a Snow Queen in Daphne’s life, why do you think it was and why did she always give her that name?

Another excellent question! The Snow Queen was — and is — a powerful presence, for Daphne and the rest of us. The icy yet enticing woman in white — alluring and destroying and compelling, even as you fear her touch.

This is a toughie, but what do you think Daphne would have made of your fictional version of her life? Would you have written it if she was still alive?

I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, have written it when she was still alive. Who knows what she would have thought of it — but I hope she might have seen it as a tribute to her power and lasting influence on subsequent writers; just as she herself had been influenced by the Brontes, and immersed herself in ‘The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte’.

‘Rebecca’ is Daphne’s most famous novel of them all followed by ‘Jamaica Inn’ which other novels would you demand people following ‘Discovering Daphne’ go and read? Have you read all of her novels yet, or have you left some to savour?

I’ve read them all, and would recommend each and every one. ‘My Cousin Rachel’ is a particular favourite of mine — however many times I read it, I’m never sure of who is the villain and which is the victim — and I’m also a huge fan of her short stories. Just think of The Birds or Don’t Look Now — such dark tales that they have had an afterlife in two haunting films — and other, less well known but equally compelling stories in ‘The Breaking Point’. And don’t forget about ‘The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte’ — worth reading for what it tells you about Du Maurier herself, as well as the Brontes.

A huge thank you to Justine for taking the time to discuss ‘Daphne’ and Daphne Du Maurier with us, tomorrow the grilling continues with Polly over at Novel Insights

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Discovering Daphne – Round Up #1

Today over on Polly of Novel Insights blog you can see her thoughts on the wonderful novel by Justine Picardie called ‘Daphne’, which as you might have guessed is all about the wonderful Daphne Du Maurier at a particularly interesting and time in her life. I am sure I pushed that book on Polly (did I Pol?) after I myself read it way back in 2009 and thought it was fantastic. You can see my thoughts here.

 

We are very excited too because the lovely Justine Picardie has kindly agreed to talk to us all about Daphne and we should have two lovely interviews with her for your delectation tomorrow, who knows if you leave any Daphne questions in the comments she may just pop and answer them for you, if we all ask very nicely of course.

So how is your Daphne reading going on? We know Sakura of Chasing Bawa has been getting back into the swing of Daphne, who else has? Please leave us links in the comments on our blogs or simply email us them and we will make sure we give you a nod and a thanks for joining in. Oh and you can let us know on twitter too as we now have #discoveringdaphne doing the rounds.

How is my Du Maurier reading going? Well I am just about to finish reading ‘Mrs De Winter’ by one of my favourite authors Susan Hill and will be reporting back soon. Was this the only ‘Rebecca’ spin-off (I hate that term) that the Du Maurier estate said ok too, or did they say ok to Sally Beauman’s ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ too (which I fancy reading but is HUGE so therefore scary)? That’s something for me to go and look up I think. I shall do that after the final page and before I crack on with ‘Mary Anne’ for the read-along on Sunday.

Hope you are all enjoying the week so far?

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Books of the Future & Books of the Now

On Monday night I was lucky enough to get to have a wander behind the scenes at one of the UK’s big publishing houses. The kindly souls at Picador and Pan Macmillan has asked if I would attend (I dragged Novel Insights along with me) an evening in their new offices to listen to some of their authors reading. Baring you all in mind, as I always do, I made sure I got a cheeky snapshot of their fabulous book filled reception. I cannot tell you how hard it was not to get on that ladder and fill my man bag, I managed, I know not how.

As I mentioned we were there to have a listen to some authors who were; John Butler, Stuart Evers (who you may know from The Guardian, Twitter etc), Sunjeev Sahota and Naomi Wood. Now if you haven’t heard of these authors that might be because they are new authors, in fact I think all of these were debut novels/collections (I could be wrong), and also their books aren’t actually out until 2011.

I can say they all sounded rather exciting John Butlers being the adventures of a young man in San Francisco in the 1980’s – his reading made us all laugh, Stuart Evers debut collection looks to be a gem if the one tale  ‘What’s in Swindon’ is anything to go by. Sunjeev Sahota’s tale ‘Ours Are The Streets’ sounds like it could be quite a hard hitting yet very funny novel, plus he additionally won me over being from my homeland of Derbyshire. Naomi Woods novel then went and won both Polly and I over being set in Newcastle (where we went to school together) in an England we don’t recognise because it’s based on and England of extreme secularism. Sadly they weren’t all in print or proof stage but I did manage to smuggle two of them away which at the end of an evening of bookish chatter and wine was perfection…

Oh yes you may notice I have included a copy of ‘Caribou Island’ by David Vann (I did so like ‘Legend of a Suicide’) in the picture and that’s because it sparked my first mini theme in today’s post… books of the future, in this case books of 2011 specifically. I am hopeless at knowing what is coming out (I seem to have come off lots of publishers catalogue mail outs sadly) in the future, although 2011 is only actually 3 months away, so I wondered if there were any titles that you have started to get really excited about coming next year? I haven’t really got a buzz for any apart from the ones above.

I thought I would use this as an excuse to mention some books of NOW in the meantime as some lovely parcels have been popping through the letter box in the last fortnight or so and I love your thoughts on these loots so I thought I would share them with you. (Sorry for the picture quality, its dreary in London and my iPhone has no flash, I will try and do another anon.) Anyway I have had;

  • The Agatha Raisin Companion – which is perfect for me and came along with…
  • Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body by M.C. Beaton – this will be being read at Christmas as its got a Christmas setting, only I won’t be in the snow I will be in Copacabana, but where better to be resting with Agatha on the hunt for a murderer?
  • A Diary of The Lady by Rachel Johnson – When this arrived I was initially not sure what Penguin were trying to say by sending this (he says with two Agatha Raisin books above). However I was discussing this with Kimbofo when we went out on Thursday night and she said she thought it sounded like it could be really good. I then tried twenty pages and though the word ‘smug’ seems to be in my mind at the mo I am strangely addicted. It’s a great bathroom book, you know you can pick it up and pop it down at intervals. Erm, anyway, moving swiftly on…
  • Nourishment by Gerard Woodward – I actually won this in the Picador event raffle which left me feeling a bit smug as it was the one book (apart from the new Brett Easton Ellis) that I really, really wanted to walk away with. It’s set in the war and tells a very different tale of a husband and wife as the husband wants dirty letters, sounds brilliantly unique. I will be reading this soon.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – Many of you have said this is the best non fiction you have read in some time, it’s the tale of Henrietta Lacks and how unwittingly her cancerous cells were used by scientists and have made massive advancements in science and yet no credit has gone to her or any of the money made from this to her family. Funnily enough Picador/Pan Macmillan publish it so a massive small hint was dropped. I think I am going to be hooked by this and possibly outraged too.
  • Wait for Me by Deborah Devonshire – the autobiography of the youngest Mitford Sister, I need say no more. I will be reading that next after book group Nevil Shute choice.
  • Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie – I had a lovely email from the publishers of this after Justine had apparently told them she read this blog and would like me to read it if I wanted to.
  • Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi – I know nothing about this book, do any of you?
  • Air & Was by Geoff Ryman – Very excited about both of these, in particular Was which is another book I want to start instantly… but I can’t and nor can I read all the books I want to at once, its most vexing.
  • The Country Diaries edited by Alan Taylor – I have seen this around the blogosphere and been very intrigued by it (I use the word intrigued so much but it’s genuinely how I feel), this could be another bathroom book. You all know what I mean by a bathroom/toilet book don’t you? I’m not being rude or trying to offend in case anyone thinks I am being crass.

So what are you reading at the moment? What books have you got your eyes on? What books have you been bought/borrowed/found/treated yourself to recently? Are you already anticipating a book that’s coming out in 2011? What are you up to this weekend?

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Heartburn – Nora Ephron

I have always been rather a fan of Nora Ephron’s films in the past, they aren’t my all time favourites, though Julie & Julia could one day end up there, but I have enjoyed them enough that myself and a colleague where I used to work would have ‘Ephron moments’ you know when life is a little bit bittersweet and you still have to laugh about it. In fact it was this former colleague, and also something I saw on Justine Picardie’s blog some time ago that brought Ephron’s book to my attention, and when I saw it in the library a few weeks ago I had to pick it up.

‘Heartburn’ is the tale of Rachel Samstat a journalist who has somehow become a name in cookery writing, which is why there are a fair few recipes spread out throughout the book. As we meet her she has not long discovered that her husband Mark has been having an affair with Thelma Rice, whilst Rachel herself is heavily pregnant. What’s worse is that this doesn’t seem to be a small bout of infidelity (can we really even forgive those?) but a relationship that has been going on for some time and doesn’t look like either participant wants to give up. What follows is an incredibly vivid, occasionally incredibly funny and also incredibly emotionally raw, account of a woman coming to terms with her second unfaithful husband. At least this time, Rachel thinks, it isn’t with one of her friends like the husband before.

I thought this book was brilliant and very clever. It could easily have become a very bitter tale, and in some parts there is rage and hurt, which simply slagged off men (which it sometimes does, though it also looks at women’s faults too) and became a rather torturous read. Instead, whilst very much looking at the emotional side of it all and indeed the practicalities of the situation Ephron adds some humour. Even when the worst things happen to us we do still laugh at the most random of things, there is that saying ‘if you didn’t laugh you’d cry’ and Ephron clearly has this intention with this novel. She also introduces other couples and characters into the mix that add to the laughter, yet have their own tragedy such as Rachel’s mother’s madness, her father’s marriages after and so on.  

Many people say that ‘Heartburn’ is actually a fictionalised version of Norah Ephron’s marriage breakdown and divorce. Not knowing Ephron personally, sadly, I couldn’t comment on that, however in her own introduction – which makes great reading afterwards – Norah hints it may be ‘thinly disguised’ fiction. Regardless it’s a brilliant book. Because the author has been there and pretty much puts her heart and soul laid bare into the pages it feels real, we have all at some point felt some of these emotions; so we can empathise and have more of an involvement, understanding and reaction to the book.

A book that will: strike a chord regardless if you are male or female (I get the feeling this is aimed very much at women but I think men would like it too) it will also make you laugh out loud. 8.5/10

I can’t currently think of any books that I could pair this with so I haven’t done so. Has anyone else read this and could share some books that other people might like too and of course what you yourself thought of ‘Heartburn’? Has anyone seen the film and what did you think? I have just ordered it on LoveFilm – thrilled to see Meryl Streep plays Rachel!

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Informative Reads… Fiction or Non Fiction?

Today’s Booking Through Thursday question asks ‘what is the most informative book you have read recently’ and my initial reaction was that all books you read inform you in some way. It could be on the authors thoughts on people/life/certain subjects, it could be the level of research they have put into it or it could be based on factual things that have happened.

If I go on the fact that fiction can be informative reading then without a doubt Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel would be the most informative read that I have had the pleasure of reading in a long time. The lengths that Mantel has clearly gone into researching Cromwell and the Tudor era (and in a way looking extra hard for new information and a different viewpoint to the era as many people have written Tudor based books in the last few years) was immense and you felt you walked the street, breathed the musty air and were actually there. Some people may say that fiction isn’t fact and I am aware fo the difference but when its based on fact, researched and thoroughly written I still think, with the right mindset, we can learn from it. I could also apply this to The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt, Daphne by Justine Picardie or the Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan I just haven’t read those as recently.

When it comes to non fiction, which I suppose is really the most informative books that you can read, then it’s a bit harder for me because I don’t read very much of it. My instant thought was The Letters Between Six Sisters all about The Mitford’s but that I read almost a year ago. Then looking back how could I have not thought instantly of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote which is one of the best books that I have read in 2009. Based on the savage murder of a family in rural America Capote writes the factual events (in such a stunning way you almost cant believe its not fiction) and looks at why people kill people, what makes people murder and how does it effect the surrounding village and population and their lives and how does it effect the families of the victims and the murderers themselves. It’s an incredibly insightful, moving and very informative and shocking book.

So what’s your most recent informative book? Do you agree or disagree that some fiction, or all fiction, can be informative in its own way? Have any fictional novels based on fact blown you away and made you feet like you were actually there? What fiction have you learnt from? What non fiction must I read?

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