I’m currently reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
It’s set just after the end of WWII and the book comprises a series of letters to and from Juliet Ashton. She is an English writer looking for her next ‘big idea’. By chance she hears about the existence of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and decides to include it in an extended feature article for The Times. The various members of the society write to Juliet telling her how it was founded accidentally to escape the wrath of the Germans, they also write about the hardships of life under German occupation and about other things in their lives. Juliet also corresponds with her editor, her best friend and the rich Markham Reynolds, who appears to be trying to woo her. There may be more, but I’m only part way through the book so I’ll let you discover that for yourselves.
So far, I’ve found the book charming and easy to read – and it’s teaching me a lot about history.
But, as a writer, what interests me most is the story of its author, Mary Ann Shaffer. Mary Ann was an American born in 1934. In 1980 she visited Guernsey and left with a fascination with the history of Channel Isles during WWII. She was a ‘hobby’ writer, always working on something but never completing anything to her satisfaction, however around twenty years after her visit to Guernsey, and encouraged by her writing group, she started work on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The completed book was snapped up by a publisher just before Mary Ann’s health began to fail. When the book’s editor requested some changes, Mary Ann wasn’t well enough to do them and so her niece, Annie Barrows (also a writer), stepped in to complete the book. Mary Ann died in early 2008, knowing that her only novel was to be published in thirteen countries but she was never able to enjoy its international success.
What’s the moral of this story? Get writing before it’s too late! Like all writers, I’m guilty of procrastination but the more birthdays I chalk up, the more aware I become of how little time we have. So I’m going to try to take Mary Ann’s story to heart – if I ever produce a best-seller (extremely faint chance, I know) then I want to be around and healthy enough to enjoy it!
And, if you need still more inspiration before facing that blank document, A Writer on Writing – Advice to Make You a Success, is only 99p until Monday 11th May 2015.