Sunday, 25 July 2010

A very good audience...

One of the best things about Port Eliot is the questions from the audience; there were so many today that we kept talking afterwards. Needless to say, the audience was as stylish as always; the epitome of easygoing festival chic.

Port Eliot: part 4. The perfect corndolly

Port Eliot: part 3. Grayson Perry and Jarvis Cocker

The spirit of Port Eliot

The Port Eliot flower show: happy days

Port Eliot: part 2. Meeting Coco

The aforementioned Coco the dog, with her fans; plus my favourite flowers with an indisputable heroine.

Port Eliot: part 1

Just got back to London from Port Eliot, where a good time was had by all (and will doubtless still be continuing). There was sunshine, golden balloons against a blue sky, glorious flowers, and much debate. My head is still reeling, but here are some highlights, in no particular order. Yesterday's impromptu late-night conversation with Grayson Perry, Philippa Perry and Helen Simpson (about the benefits of psychotherapy and the best new word I've heard coined for ages: buzz-kill -- not a new brand of fly-spray, but a term used for someone or something that makes you feel worse about yourself); tea with Diana Athill; conversation with Nicholas St Aubyn and Caroline Graham (from the Daily Beast); my editor bringing me the first unbound copy of my new book, all the way from London to Cornwall; calamari and chips for Sunday lunch; spotting a plethora of stripy tops; Bay Garnett's charm bracelet; Cathy St German's leather boots and crystal necklace; Coco the dog, named after Chanel, a black and white bundle who I met in the flower tent.
Meanwhile, some pictures courtesy of my favourite photographer, who drove me hundreds of miles there and back again this weekend, and stayed good-tempered throughout.
Thank you to everyone who came to hear me speak today and yesterday. It was a privilege to engage with such a literate audience.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

What lies beneath

If anyone is going to Port Eliot, I can also be found on Saturday afternoon in the Round Room, in conversation with Nicholas St Aubyn. He has been researching the story of a lost treasure, a Tudor shipwreck, and the history of his family home, St Michael's Mount, which is surely one of the loveliest places in Cornwall. So tonight I am trying to gather my thoughts, and cast my mind back to 'Daphne' and Menabilly and other Cornish landscapes, both fictional and otherwise... I'm starting by re-reading my introduction to Du Maurier's novel of Cornish history, 'The King's General', set in Menabilly in the 17th century during the Civil War. As always with Du Maurier, her first lines are swift to conjure the mood of what will unfold, as well as her striking sense of place:
'September, 1653. The last of summer. The first chill winds of autumn. The sun no longer strikes my eastern window as I wake, but, turning laggard, does not top the hill before eight o'clock. A white mist hides the bay sometimes until noon, and hangs about the marshes too, leaving, when it lifts, a breath of cold air behind it...'

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Of wings and horseboxes...

V. excited to discover that the Hermes horse box is on its way to Port Eliot. Also enjoying the winged horseman flying through the aether at Herm├Ęs online; and much looking forward to Matt Sewell's custom-made bird-hide down by the river at Port Eliot. Have already been bird-spotting here, as well.
Now, if only I could find a camellia in bloom to take with me to the flower show...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Finished my book...

... if a book can ever be said to be finished. But it is, at any rate, being printed. I feel happy and relieved and lost for words, all at the same time. At the end of next week, I'll be talking about it at Port Eliot -- I do hope to see some of you there. Port Eliot is launching its first flower show this year -- created by the brilliant Michael Howells, who designs sets for everyone from Dior to the Ballet Rambert -- hence the title of my talk: Chanel, Lady of the Camellias.
More soon...

Monday, 5 July 2010

Of scratches and corrections

I've been meaning to post these pictures since last month -- ancient graffiti from the pillars at the entrance to the mausoleum at Bowood -- but tonight seems to be the right moment, as I emerge from what I think -- hope -- might be the last set of corrections to the final proof of my Chanel book. Every book I've ever written has required lengthy revisions, but this one feels by far the most demanding, in part because of the huge weight of research and evidence to be assimilated from various different archives. (At this point, I should admit that my closest friends would doubtless remind me that I felt similarly wrung out during the final corrections of 'Daphne'; but this Chanel biography has the added complications -- and compensations -- of the inclusion of photographs, illustrations, letters, and much else besides). Anyway, you've probably already guessed that there have been a few gloomy nights merging into anxious early mornings when I feel gripped by dread, and worry whether anyone will notice how much concentrated work has gone into this book? And then I wonder, wouldn't it be better if readers didn't notice, if the endless drafts seemed simply to disappear into one seamless, apparently effortless whole? (Probably the latter, though who knows what the critics will think... no, help, am trying not to think about those as darkness falls, otherwise will curl up and shrink into small ball of fright.)
I wonder, also, what it is that compels us to excavate the past; to read between the lines of the testaments of the dead, to try -- and try again -- to catch the echoes of their silenced voices. Why keep following the trail of a ghost?
Not that we necessarily need answers; for it is, after all, the journey that matters most.
Anyway, that probably sounds more downcast than it should; for the evening is a lovely one, and I've just been watering the garden. Its borders are a little past their midsummer best -- the roses were glorious last week, twined with honeysuckle and jasmine -- but still scented and abundant, amidst self-sown valerian and forget-me-nots. Such solace to be had in the small joys of wild green things, after grappling with print manuscripts, with the black and white weight of words.