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Sunday, 16 September 2012

The actress and the priest...

Louis de Bernieres at the Guernsey Literary Festival

I arrived at the Guernsey Literary Festival this week just in time to see novelist Louis de Bernieres make an entrance - and I'm so glad I did. Despite being born in Britain, this surprisingly affable author has an exotic-sounding name that sits comfortably with his collection of works set all over the world. Grateful as he may be to Captain Corelli's Mandolin for catapulting him to fame (not to mention wealth) I can't help wondering if he finds discussing the novel after so many years  just a tiny bit tedious.

He began his talk with a never-before-heard short story about an actress and a priest, that had us all rolling with laughter. 'This is funny and a bit silly but I've only just written it and you are the first to hear it so  you can make up your minds,' he said.  Based  in Norfolk, where the author now lives, it follows the mixed fortunes of Roman Catholic priest Papa De Lyon, (my spelling) , known locally as 'Paper Lion' and a long retired eccentric actress who wants to convert to Catholicism on her own rather bizarre terms.  Louis de Bernieres is, of course, famous for his prurient sense of humour and on this he didn't disappoint.

An adult author, his one children's book Red Dog, written in 2002 and set in Western Australia, was presumed to be for adults and therefore treated as such, much to his amusement.  It was made into an Australian film  two years ago.  Fans of his novels know they are written as stand-alone chapters that subtly connect  to make a whole. Deceptively easy to read  they are clearly far more complicated to write and include The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, Birds Without Wings, Senor Viva and the Coco Lord and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman. I am currently reading A Partisan's Daughter (a paper version, signed by the author, of course) a wonderful mixture of sadness, perception and joy which was shortlisted for the  Costa Novel Award in 2008.

After the talk I asked Louis de Bernieres if he thought that the future lay in digital publishing.  He smiled, raised a copy of one of his novels and said 'Whatever happens we will always have these.'

I do hope he's right.

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