Learning how to live life from a good biography

Learning how to live life from a good biography

I went to Cornwall for a few days in April and stayed in the beautiful port of Fowey in a flat with great bay windows overlooking the harbour mouth. The perfect place to sit and enjoy a good book.

My friend and I spent the days out enjoying bracing walks along the cliffs and visiting the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. We then spent each afternoon, between getting in around four o’clock and making dinner, sitting in the window and quietly reading. Bliss.

It seemed only right to spend the time reading about Cornwall. Having scared ourselves half to death one evening watching the film of Rebecca, I couldn’t resist extracting the biography of Daphne Du Maurier by Margaret Forster from the bookshelves and was instantly gripped by it.

Hers was a sad life in many ways – denying her feelings for a lot of her life, longing to possess a house she could never own but which possessed her, and ending up alone. But it was an amazingly rich life in other ways – in both what she experienced and the times she lived through, as well as, of course, her prolific writing. I particularly liked the fact that her spelling was terrible and that she was happy for her editors to work extensively on her books, always accepting their changes (even when privately hurt by them on occasion). Having walked on the Gribbin where Du Maurier constantly walked with her family and dogs, past Menabilly (the house that inspired Manderley where Rebecca is set), and having had lunch in a pub on the beach in Polkerris (where Rebecca’s body is washed up), it was wonderful to then be immersed in her life every afternoon. I love reading biography – peering nosily into other people’s long lives to see what lessons to draw on how to take decisions about what’s important and what’s not.

Having read Eden by Tim Smit when I first visited the Eden Project nine years ago, I settled down to read The Lost Gardens of Heligan also by Tim Smit when I got home, to extend the feeling of being in Cornwall for as long as possible. Tim Smit truly is an innovator and to hear how he had taken these amazing projects from slightly crazy ideas to fruitition was inspiring (and, if you take him as a role model for trying to make a difference, a bit exhausting to even contemplate).

My final act of the holiday was to send my friend (whose parents’ flat had provided such a lovely holiday venue) a copy of Rebecca’s Tale. One of my favourite indulgences is re-reading Rebecca every now and then, and discovering Rebecca’s Tale had made me read everything else Sally Beauman has written – all of which is great. My friend was delighted to get a surprise parcel at work (I do love sending people books as gifts) and then enjoyed reading it as much as I had.