Tuesday, 25 April 2017

#GuestPost #DeborahLawrenson #300DaysofSun


300 Days of Sun

Combining the atmosphere of Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins with the intriguing historical backstory of Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train, Deborah Lawrenson’s mesmerizing novel transports readers to a sunny Portuguese town with a shadowy past—where two women, decades apart, are drawn into a dark game of truth and lies that still haunts the shifting sea marshes

I am delighted to welcome Deborah Lawrenson to my blog today with a guest post all about the Durrell's and Corfu! 

Thanks Deborah for coming along and sharing such an interesting post with us! 

Deborah Lawrenson

Deborah Lawrenson
The Durrells – Corfu and afterwards

The Durrells are back on Sunday evening TV, bickering and creating mayhem against the heavenly backdrop of Corfu. Simon Nye’s adaptation is gorgeous escapism, much as the island was for the real Durrells in the years before the second world war. And the tales it spins are about as misleading.

Some years ago I became so fascinated by the family, and elder brother Larry in particular, that I wrote a novel inspired by his traveller’s life – and four wives along the way. I loved Gerard Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals from the moment I opened it aged about eleven. It was the funniest book I had ever read, and Gerald’s vicious yet loving lampoon of writer Larry sparkled in a glittering sea of hilarious set pieces, the 'diminutive blond firework' by turns pompously literary and infuriated by marauding beasts and insects.

But as ever with the Durrells, the truth was never allowed to get in the way of a good story. As sister Margo once said: “I never know what’s fact and what’s fiction in my family.”

My novel Songs of Blue and Gold caught fire one gloomy winter afternoon when I rediscovered Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero's Cell on the bookshelves of a bedroom at the top of the house. Opening it and starting to read was like injecting the grey with vivid blues and emeralds. It’s a richly evocative account of his life in Corfu in the 1930s, first published in 1945, more than a decade before My Family and Other Animals.

Prospero’s Cell purports to be a diary in which Lawrence is a serious young writer living blissfully in the sun, deeply in love with his new wife and the Ionian setting where he comes alive. Just as Gerald does not mention his brother’s wife Nancy in his book, Lawrence barely alludes to his rumbustious family also living on the island. Larry and Nancy lived for only a short spell with the family, at the enormous Daffodil-Yellow Villa at Sotiriotissa (which was actually pale pink).

Lawrence states that Prospero's Cell is a "guide to the landscape and manners" of Corfu but it never quite becomes this. It is a lyrical personal notebook, and what he leaves out is as poignant as what he includes. By the time he wrote it, he and Nancy had a baby daughter and had separated after fleeing Greece to Egypt. He was already sadder and wiser, living in wartime Alexandria with Eve Cohen, who would become his second wife.

I was intrigued. Further researches and a reading of several biographies soon revealed a complex and contradictory character - and a further two wives. Lawrence’s work, over a period of nearly sixty years - most famously in The Alexandria Quartet - was concerned with duality: love and hate; truth and fiction; memory and misinterpretation. And running through it all, the transfiguring effect of time.

Lawrence Durrell wrote beguilingly, drawing constantly on his own experience and his many subsequent moves across the shores of the Mediterranean - to Rhodes (Reflections on a Marine Venus), Cyprus (Bitter Lemons), the former Yugoslavia, and finally to the South of France (Caesar's Vast Ghost and The Avignon Quintet) where he settled for thirty years.

What was especially rewarding as I dug deeper was that he featured in so many other biographies and memoirs. It was a rich seam, each giving further insights. Larry forged enduring friendships with writers such as Henry Miller, Anais Nin, T S Eliot (who was his editor at Faber and Faber), Patrick Leigh Fermor, Freya Stark, Rose Macauley, Richard Aldington and Elizabeth David. He and his brother Gerald remained close all their lives, and Gerald always credited Larry - along with his Corfu mentor Theodore Stephanides - with setting him on the path to success when things could so easily have turned out very differently for a young boy with no father, and precious little education. Theodore, too, remained a lifelong friend of both men.

Interwoven throughout the adventurous moves were Lawrence’s many loves and four marriages. He seemed to pack so many different lives into one! And while he was a comet blazing, what of the women he collided with along the way, I wondered? How did their stories end? And what of those he met, whose lives he changed but who did not rate even a footnote in the biographies? Soon, I was busy inventing a fictional version of Durrell: Julian Adie.

Julian Adie is a fictional creation, yet I have been faithful to the settings of Lawrence Durrell's life abroad and his quest for "the spirit of place". The White House in Kalami, Corfu, where he lived with Nancy is, and was, as described. It is still owned by the Athinaios family, who were Durrell's landlords in the 1930s.

For the last thirty years of his life, Lawrence made his home in the Languedoc, south-west France, where the herb-scented raggedness reminded him of Greece. There it was harder, initially, to find his traces. Time does seem to have reset the co-ordinates. The centre of the small market town of Sommières remains much as he described it, but across the Roman bridge over the Vidourle, his old house is swamped by the present in the form of a Champion hypermarket and its parking spaces.

But in Corfu, the Shrine of St Arsenius - Durrell's "place of predilection" where he felt he was reborn as the writer he would become - is scarcely changed from the 1930s. The tiny waterside chapel sits timelessly on the cliff rocks where he and Nancy dived and sunbathed naked, she “like an otter…bringing up cherries in her teeth,” (Prospero's Cell).

songsofblueandgold

You can read an extract from the opening of Songs of Blue and Gold here:

daysofsun

Deborah’s latest novel is 300 Days of Sun, set in Portugal and was published in April 2016. Here's a brief synopsis of the novel:

On the southern coast of Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. She meets Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man, in Faro. But nothing is quite what it seems. Behind the atmospheric Moorish buildings, Faro has a seedy underbelly, and Nathan admits he has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.

Joanna’s search leads her to The Alliance, a novel that recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. At first it seems unlikely this book could have any bearing on the present, but soon she and Nathan find the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.
Selected for National Reading Group Month Great Group Reads in the USA, this multi-layered novel combines a present day mystery with romantic suspense and wartime historical fiction.




MORE ABOUT DEBORAH LAWRENSON 


theseagardenthelanternartoffalling

After a childhood of constant moves around the world - my family lived at various times in Kuwait, China, Belgium, Luxembourg and Singapore - I read English at Trinity College, Cambridge. I trained as a journalist on a weekly South London newspaper, then worked on several national newspapers and magazines. 

My first novel, Hot Gossip (1994), was a satire based on my experiences working on Nigel Dempster's diary column, and was followed by a sequel, Idol Chatter (1995). The Moonbathers, a black comedy, followed in 1998. 
Hot Gossip Idol Chatter The Moonbathers The Art of Falling Songs of Blue and Gold The Lantern The Sea Garden 300 Days of Sun 

The Art of Falling was a complete change of direction, which took five years to research and write. But trying to get it published was like starting from scratch again. In the end, after many false dawns and disappointments, I published it myself under the Stamp Publishing imprint in September 2003. Almost immediately it became clear that the novel had struck a chord with booksellers and reading groups around my home in Kent. Ottakar's liked it enough to recommend it to their stores nationwide, and the rights were sold to Random House. The Art of Falling was republished by Arrow in July 2005 and chosen as one of the books for the WHSmith Fresh Talent promotion that summer. It went on to sell more than all my previous books put together! 

Songs of Blue and Gold (2008) was in a similar style: a story that grew out of a book trail that began with the writer Lawrence Durrell and Corfu, my insatiable curiosity about past events and a love for the warmer shores and colours of southern Europe. 

Provence was the setting of The Lantern (2011). This was my first novel to appear in the USA, where it was published by HarperCollins to a fantastic critical reception; it was an Indie Next pick and a Costco Pennie's Pick. In the UK it was chosen for The TV Book Club Summer Reads on Channel4 and More4 and shortlisted for the RNA's 2012 Romantic Novel of the Year award in the Epic category. 

The Sea Garden (2014) opens in the South of France on the Mediterranean island of Porquerolles and revisits one of the settings of The Lantern, as well as one of its characters, Marthe Lincel the perfume maker. 

My latest novel, 300 Days of Sun is set in Portugal, opening on the Algarve coast around Faro. It's another "vivid escape to an intriguing place" (as the Washington Post kindly said about The Lantern) and the story turns on the dark games of truth and lies played out when Lisbon was a centre of espionage during the second world war. 

I currently divide my time between rural Kent and a crumbling hamlet in Provence, which is the atmospheric setting for The Lantern.

For more from me, you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Deborah for the wonderfully written and informative post. We loved The Durrells last year on PBS, and are looking forward to more episodes.

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