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.
#1 by jakill on May 5, 2015 - 9:28 am
I’ve read this book, Sally and was very impressed. It was recommended to me by a fellow blogger after I posted about a visit to Guernsey. Like you, I found the author’s story fascinating too.
#2 by Sally Jenkins on May 5, 2015 - 1:31 pm
I don’t know about you, Jean, but since I started writing, I’m always very interested to read the ‘About the Author’ bit at the beginning or end of a novel.
#3 by blogaboutwriting on May 5, 2015 - 7:19 pm
Really interesting post, Sally. I’ve heard of this book but never got round to reading it. So, now, I’ve added it to my Amazon wishlist! (which is growing by the day!)
#4 by Sally Jenkins on May 5, 2015 - 7:55 pm
I hope the Amazon fairy comes along and fulfills your wishes, Helen!
#5 by crimewritingsolutions on May 6, 2015 - 5:17 pm
I too enjoy reading a bit about the author but find cases such as this, such a shame. It’s hard finding authors you like without then producing nothing more (Harper Lee), although leaving this world is probably a reasonable excuse.
You are also right to remind us procrastinators to get on with it NOW!
#6 by Sally Jenkins on May 7, 2015 - 7:55 am
It maybe that some writers only have one book in them, Kevin. After one bestseller, the pressure to produce another of the same standard must be absolutely crippling.
#7 by hilarycustancegreen on May 7, 2015 - 10:28 pm
I read this two years ago, and loved it.
#8 by Nick Daws (@nickdaws) on May 18, 2015 - 7:15 am
I enjoyed reading this book a few years ago as well. It gets off to rather a slow start in my opinion, but once the action moves to Guernsey it becomes utterly engrossing. Oddly enough, I was on Guernsey three days ago on a cruise!
#9 by Sally Jenkins on May 18, 2015 - 4:36 pm
Hope you enjoyed Guernsey, Nick. I’ve never been but it’s always interesting to see places that you’ve read about.