Saturday, 17 October 2009


Cheltenham Literary Festival was one of those days which felt like Christmas. It's a delicious chocolate-boxy town and all the festival tents made the site resemble some flower-filled medieval jousting spot. I kept spotting famous faces. (But what on earth was Nick Clegg - the Lib-Dem leader promoting?)

I was on a panel with the wonderful actress and campaigner Virginia McKenna, chick-lit Queen Katie Fforde and broadcaster and novelist Stella Duffy. We were chaired by the Shakespearian actress Fiona Lindsay and discussing Romance On the Page. About the survey which had asked who is the ultimate romantic hero? (Bizarrely, it was the barking Mr. Rochester).

A packed hall contained a lively audience who afterwards came through for a book signing, where they were served pink champagne by Butlers In The Buff. You don't believe me?

A big hello to Barbie, Sarah-Jane and various members of the fabulous Roberts family who were all there.
I also met Rick Stroud - director extraordinaire - who has written a book called THE BOOK OF THE MOON. Rick, Stella and I travelled back on the train together. To Reading (how appropriate!) which was the slowest journey in the world but we giggled for most of it. Did you ever read that book by John Masefield - THE BOX OF DELIGHTS? Well, our train journey seemed to be sprinkled with a Masefield-type atmosphere - or maybe it was just the end of a magical day.

Don't you think that train journeys are always more memorable than travelling by car or plane?

Oh, and here's the youtube link...


  1. It's quite odd that Mr. Edward Rochester is considered the ultimate romantic hero... His dialogues and his actions are passionate but his nature is mild and quiet.

    I have always loved Heathcliff's wilder nature, he's the Byronic hero par excellence; no surname, no information about his past... he has been sent from above in order to live in a land where his only dream is loving and being loved. Moreover, Laurence Olivier is the most talented actor which made him live "à la perfection".

    I love travelling by's relaxing and you can see a great variety of people - tired people, sad or happy people, pensive people... and you also have different landscapes to admire according to your destination.
    Plane is different, you just see clouds outside!
    Talking about "memorable journeys", a nice episode: few months ago I was going to Rome because of my last job... and I met an American comic actor. When he knew I lived in Naples he said "Oh, Naples... wow, do you know Elvis Presley's song Surrender?" I said: "Yes..." but in my mind I began to understand why he asked me.
    In fact the song is a rearrangement of a 1902 Neapolitan ballad by Giambattista and Ernesto De Curtis entitled "Torna a Surriento" (Come back to Sorrento). By the way, few minutes later he began to sing this song and oh, it was so embarrassing... but funny too! Fortunately, men and women around were smiling!

  2. The business of the male lead is so interesting. I am going to check out Olivier's Heathcliffe and his Rebecca. I enjoyed that train journey a lot and as a result am reading Stephen King's On Writing. Sharon mentioned it on the trip and that was the third time in 24 hours I had heard about it - God is telling me something I though.

  3. Michela - interestingly, I think Olivier played the definitive Darcy in the old black and white film version, starring Greer Garson as Elizabeth. And - like Rick - I must now re-visit his Heathcliffe.

    I also had no idea that "Surrender" was a reworking of an old Neapolitan I love learning new things!

  4. Oh, I love Darcy played by Olivier, I have both movies - Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights on DVD - in the last one Catherine is played by Merle Oberon.

    Yes, "Surrender" is a reworking of that Neapolitan ballad and also the melody of Presley's song "It's now or never" is borrowed from the Italian standard "O sole mio".

    I have just finished to read F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" again and the main character reminded me the subject of romantic heroes... Jay Gatsby may be considered a romantic hero? Or an anti-hero?
    From a poor background he builds all his life and his richness only to get the love of Daisy, the woman he has always loved, returned...the same woman who left him to marry a richer man. He will get her love again but he will also die for her, unaware of fate's strange designs.
    Anyway, this book has always captured my fantasy, with its 1920's atmosphere, the Jazz age, its parties, its rich ladies and tycoons under a sky of light blue loneliness and sweet melancholy for untaken choices.
    ... And Robert Redford portrays Gatsby perfectly!

  5. Mmm - I loved Redford in The Way We Were (sob!) and Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books, Michela - with the best and most moving final paragraph I've ever read.
    But Jay as a hero? Not for me - he wasn't the kind of man I'd want to explore as a woman....

  6. Actually, it may be the penultimate paragraph....

  7. Oh my God... The Way We Were! I love that movie, it's in my top 10 movie list - Hubbell Gardiner and Barbra's song - the beginning... "Memories like the corners of my mind..." - I have seen it about 20 times I think! And the last bittersweet scene... when they meet again, he sees her on the other side of the street and when they talk she moves a lock of hair from his forehead like she used to do... wonderful.
    Hubbell Gardiner is definitely the kind of man I'd want to explore as a woman!
    Jay and Hubbell are so different, but maybe if Jay isn't a hero he's not so strong as he wants to show...he's proud but when there's Daisy his defences break down.
    This is the fascinating aspect: the rich man, the tycoon who looks at his parties without being present and who has bought his house just to be next to Daisy. This is romantic. Yes, the last paragraphs are wonderful, full of elegiac drama.
    I will think of other romantic heroes of books and movies! I like talking about them to you.

  8. Sharon,

    Your panel sounds terrific. Wish I'd been there to hear the views. As you say, odd that Rochester topped the list. I'd have thought Darcy would be up there, especially after the recent Jane Austen binge on the small and large screen.

    I never warmed to Rochester as much as some others have but I blame that partly on the fact that I saw Orson Welles in the role before I read the book. Such an improvement to see the BBC version with Timothy Dalton. There you felt the intensity of his emotions for Jane.


  9. I was astonished by the choice of Mr Rochester, too, although almost convinced by Penny Vincenzi. Loves Masefield's Box of Delights. Used to make "possets" for the kids, who always picked up on great book treats, and bought Turkish Delight in wooden boxes, too. Yum.

  10. I was in Cheltenham last week and you were fantastic on that panel Sharon. Funny, feisty and full of witty retorts!
    Penny, Bath.