Salley Vickers talks inspiration and style in another SOLD OUT Writers in Residence event

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‘A short story is like a love affair’ – Salley Vickers describes her latest published work, The Boy Who Could See Death, remarking on the difference between her many novels and her latest collection of short stories. For the lucky people who find themselves in front of the phenomenally successful author on Tuesday night, it proves to be a moving and insightful evening with discussion ranging from Salley’s childhood memories of Venice to her experiences as a psycho-analytical specialist. 

Vickers begins by describing the beauty of Venice. Amazing though its tourist spots are, she says, her experiences getting lost in its streets provided the most inspiration for her debut novel Miss Garnet’s Angel. Finding herself in a lonely church in Venice’s back alleys, it was a painting depicting the story of ‘Tobias and the Angel’ which stuck in her mind over 30 years, and which gave her the inspiration for a new way to tell an old classic. 

Paraphrasing T.S Eliot’s famous quote, Salley says that all ‘great poets steal’ their best stories to some extent. This is true of Shakespeare, she claims, as well as herself. The most poignant and successful books are often successful because they deal with integral human life experiences and characteristically human traits. These older moralist stories touch on subjects such as how human beings deal with death, which Salley is familiar with due to her past as psycho-analyst, and help people to cope with how traumatising it can be. Death, she says, is our one certainty. 

Dealing with death is often a key topic in Salley’s novels, for example Mr Golightly’s Holiday, in which the character of Mr Golightly is a grieving man trying to come to terms with the loss of his son. Mr Golightly is likened to God, trying to understand why his son had to die. 

That is not to say that Salley does not find her ideas elsewhere, in ordinary people. In some cases, such as The Cleaner of Chartres, Salley describes one of her trips to the beautiful French Cathedral, a time in which it was completely empty but for one small cleaning lady. What could her story be?

Salley Vickers is a prolific author who writes without planning what’s going to go down on the paper at all. Her creative process is sometimes helped along by an already existing plot, but she says she is thankful that, unlike Dickens who had to publish massive works likes Little Dorrit and Bleak House in serial form, her novels can be written and enjoyed in a much more languid spread of time. 

Salley’s tales about her life and her research entertain our audience for nearly an hour, before questions are invited. After the event, many of the audience members get the chance to purchase another of Salley’s books from our independent bookshop, and to meet her as she signs their books. 

We’d like to thank all who attended An Evening With Salley Vickers, for making the event so pleasant and for asking such intuitive questions.  We also, as always, are extremely grateful to Salley for coming again to our Library, and sharing her experiences to another sold out audience. Salley always proves to be a very popular addition to our calendar.

Becky Marvin