My sister, aspiring stoic, but actually an Epicurean like me, with an easy laugh and a great advocate for all wildlife, including blacky, batty, toady, foxy, robby and all the other freeloaders who inhabit our garden…her unflinching support both emotionally and financially, despite tangible evidence of eccentric tendencies in her brother, has made this project possible…albeit at the cost of more white wine than she would ordinarily choose to drink.

my nan, left, and my mum at eighteen in Alexandria, chalk and cheese as characters, but the two most powerful influences in my life; one headstrong and wilful, the other soft and gentle…and yet as my mother ages and seems somehow to become her mother, striking similarities emerge, tenacity for example, acute observation, stoicism yes, but with an edge, a sense of entitlement, wit, something blue-blooded though both worked all their lives

above all, and rather embarrassingly, they shared in common a tendency to put me at the centre of their lives, for better or worse some partners might say

Laurence Sterne, clergyman and novelist who saw the funny side of both the novel as a form and life writing as an art. In The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, he showed a technical virtuosity that was daring then and, to my mind, has never been surpassed since. Calling attention to the artifice of the novel  includes the joke of totally black pages standing for events he cannot put into words, mocking the very notion that anything can truly be recorded or recorded truly.  

Did I mention Michel de Montaigne at all?

Benvenuto Cellini, the celebrated goldsmith, sculptor, soldier, brawler, liar, fantasist, died the year Montaigne began writing his essays. He left a lasting legacy in the form of his Autobiography, an unrivalled tour de force recounting his life in full technicolour and apparently without conscience…his surprise attacks on rivals down dark alleyways, his weapon of choice a dagger from behind, the planning of murders, and his faithless and selfish love life…and he never bats an eyelid. Chutzpah indeed.

my daughters...
the point, the purpose,
the subtext and text to everything, now astonishing young women with
good hearts and many talents,
their early promise as
bob sleighers alas, remains
sadly neglected

Italo Svevo is remembered best for his novel, Confessions of Zeno, which purports to be a memoir written at the behest of his analyst, recounting the very ordinary life and times of a Trieste businessman who is trying to give up smoking, and failing. 

Svevo is believed to be the model for James Joyce’s peripatetic Harold Bloom in Ulysses, and the two writers were great friends and even collaborators. Joyce championed Svevo’s work, though Confessions had to be self-published and received no accolades at the time. Irony is everything in Svevo’s world though not in Zeno’s, who takes himself painfully seriously. 

Martha Gellhorn, rather than Hubby Hem, inspires with an immaculate writing style and no hint of mannerism. Fiction eluded her as a form, but as a journalist, she showed incredible courage under fire…

…the fascist bombs in Madrid were bad enough, but husband Hemingway’s behaviour worse, and after their divorce, after his silly attempts to belittle her substantial reputation as a war correspondent and big up his own rather flimsy credentials, she refused to even hear his name mentioned in her presence…this is them on a visit to China in 1941

and who could forget dear Jean-Jacques, plagued by paranoia most of his life, falling out with all and sundry, leaving his five children at a poorhouse, (so rumour has it), yet he bridged the enlightenment with the romantic movement and wrote his ‘confessions’


“I have entered upon a performance which is without example, whose accomplishment will have no imitator. I mean to present my fellow-mortals with a man in all the integrity of nature; and this man shall be myself.

I know my heart, and have studied mankind; I am not made like any one I have been acquainted with, perhaps like no one in existence; if not better, I at least claim originality, and whether Nature did wisely in breaking the mould with which she formed me, can only be determined after having read this work.”

jean-jaques may have thought he'd have no imitators, but he couldn't have been more wrong...we're all at it these days, (mea culpa), 'authentic experience' being the gold standard for publishers and perhaps even readers, always implying the juicy if not the saucy...