Tuesday 3 April 2018

The Sapphire Widow by Dinah Jefferies @DinahJefferies @VikingBooksUK @PenguinUKBooks @GeorgiaKTaylor #MyLifeInBooks

A sweeping, breath-taking story of love and betrayal from the Number One Sunday Times bestselling author of The Tea Planter's Wife
Ceylon, 1935. Louisa Reeve, the daughter of a successful British gem trader, and her husband Elliot, a charming, thrill-seeking businessman, seem like the couple who have it all. Except what they long for more than anything: a child.
While Louisa struggles with miscarriages, Elliot is increasingly absent, spending much of his time at a nearby cinnamon plantation, overlooking the Indian ocean. After his sudden death, Louisa is left alone to solve the mystery he left behind. Revisiting the plantation at Cinnamon Hills, she finds herself unexpectedly drawn towards the owner Leo, a rugged outdoors man with a chequered past. The plantation casts a spell, but all is not as it seems. And when Elliot's shocking betrayal is revealed, Louisa has only Leo to turn to...

The Sapphire Widow by Dinah Jefferies is published by Viking Books / Penguin UK on 5 April 2018
I'm so pleased to welcome the author here to Random Things today, she's talking about the books that are special to her in My Life In Books.

My Life in Books - Dinah Jefferies

I grew up in Malaya, where books were few and far between, so I don’t have strong memories of anything I read as a young child. It was different when, back in England, a whole new world opened up courtesy of the library, and I soon became obsessed with reading.

One of the novels I read then was Anne of Green Gables, the book that cemented my addiction to strong female characters, although my most vivid memory of it came years later when I snuggled up under the duvet with my daughter as we watched the tv series together. I was delighted that she also fell in love with the clever adventurous red-haired girl that was Anne.

Little Women has run through four generations of my family. My mother encouraged me to read it when I was about eleven, my daughter read it too and now my ten-year-old granddaughter has just finished it. How wonderful the unforgettable March sisters were, especially Jo, even though I had no idea at the time that I would eventually become a writer too.

To Kill a Mocking Bird was the greatest shock to me. It was an amazing combination of a coming of age story, plus an anti-racism novel and a historical drama too. Its power was that it gave me my first real understanding of the evils of racial intolerance and I found it terribly upsetting, although I loved that the story unfolded through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch and I have to admit I was a little in love with their father.

Soon after that a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was doing the rounds at my grammar school. It had been a banned book so, when it was my turn to take home the dog-eared copy, hidden at the bottom of my satchel, I read it under the bedcovers at night by the light of a torch. I remember very little about the novel itself, but the thrill of that clandestine reading has remained with me to this day, as well as the fun we had comparing shocked notes as we attempted to scribble out own versions during break at school.

The books I’m talking about here are not necessarily my favourite books, but they are the ones that mark different stages of my life. I have precious memories of my first long term boyfriend at university reading the Just William stories out loud to me as we lay in bed at night. I can still smell the damp in that student flat and hear his wonderful Northern Irish accent travelling down the years. It was a very special time, although also quite funny really, as in between the Just William stories I became pregnant with my beautiful son Jamie.

When, many years later, he was killed in a motorbike accident, I found it impossible to read anything that wasn’t about death. Not novels, but the books that most sustained me, were Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s book, Life Death and Transition, and anything by Ram Dass, especially Be Here Now. At that time, I was desperate for answers and meaning, even though there really was none. And, as Elizabeth Kubler Ross was generally considered to be the woman who brought death and dying out of the closet by defining the five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance - I took part in one of her very powerful workshops to work through them.

I came back to reading slowly and, initially, via poetry especially that of Robert Frost. In particular two poems stand out. The Road Less Travelled seemed to sum up where I was in my life, and the other, Out Out, about a sudden youthful death, of course, had special meaning for me. I also managed to read a wonderful retelling of the Arthurian saga entitled The Mists of Avalon and loved it, mainly because the spiritual world of that time really came alive for me and I was still searching.

Fast forward several years and I read Julia Gregson’s, East of the Sun, the book that first inspired me to take up writing. The book is set in India and I wondered if I might be able to write a novel set in Malaya, where I was born and where I lived through the very dramatic years of the Malayan Emergency. And so, after a long struggle, The Separation was born and, to my surprise, was published by Penguin in 2014, and that was just the beginning of this ongoing and utterly amazing time in my life, with my fifth book, The Sapphire Widow, published this year.

There are so many books that have meant something to me at different times of my life that it’s impossible to single out just a few but, to bring my story bang up to date, I can’t end without including the books of Irish writer John Boyne. Both read recently, The Heart’s Invisible Furies and The Absolutist moved me to tears and in the end that’s what I most want from a book – to be reminded what it means to be alive, how tough it can sometimes be but equally how strong the human spirit is. The writing is brilliant but the emotional punch these two books pack is outstanding.

And now I can’t help thinking of all the marvellous books I’ve left out, so I’ll end by mentioning just a few that have meant so much to me:
Tess of the Durbervilles, Rebecca, Anna Karenina, A Passage to India, The Remains of the Day, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary, My Dear I wanted to Tell You. And there are more, many many, more.

Dinah was born in Malaya in 1948 and moved to England at the age of nine. In 1985, the sudden death of her fourteen year old son changed the course of her life, and deeply influenced her writing. Dinah drew on that experience, and on her own childhood spent in Malaya during the 1950s to write her debut novel, The Separation. 

Now living in Gloucestershire with her husband and their Norfolk terrier, she spends her days writing, with time off with her grandchildren.

Find out more at www.dinahjefferies.com
Follow her on Twitter at @DinahJefferies

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