Tag Archives: books

T&T 49 | Nell Stevens Discusses Bleaker House

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In today’s Tea & Tattle episode, I’m joined by the writer Nell Stevens to discuss Nell’s debut book, Bleaker House. Nell lives in London and has a PhD in Victorian literature from King’s College London, and an MFA in Fiction from Boston University.

In her book, Nell describes her journey to the Falkland Islands, in search of the distraction-free, solitary existence she believed would help her to write a novel. Both funny and poignant, Bleaker House is one of the best books I’ve read about the writing process and what it means to be a writer.

It was a real joy to get to chat to Nell on the podcast and find out more about her day-to-day routine on Bleaker Island, as well as what her experience taught her about herself and her writing. Nell also explained how she came to structure the book in an unusual way, assembling it into a kind of collage to include her account of life on Bleaker Island, as well as extracts from her fiction writing and anecdotes about her past.

Nell Stevens, photographed by Mat Smith

I also questioned Nell about the title of her novel and the significance that Dickens’s Bleak House held for her writing process. Nell also makes an exciting announcement at the end of the episode about her next book, so be sure to listen out for that!

Listen to learn more about Nell’s experience of Bleaker Island and of writing a book. 

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T&T 47 | A Secret Sisterhood

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Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m joined by authors Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, to discuss their book, A Secret Sisterhood, which describes the hidden literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.

In their captivating book, Emily and Emma offer a fresh perspective on the lives of these famous women and show how important their friendships with other female writers were to their literary endeavours. As best friends and writers themselves, Emma and Emily have a particular interest in examining the role of friendship in writing, and they run the charming blog, Something Rhymed, which is dedicated to celebrating female literary friendships from the past and present.

I was so delighted to be able to speak to them both about how their friendship has influenced their own writing careers, as well as the discoveries they made whilst writing A Secret Sisterhood. Their book has been meticulously researched, and Emily and Emma even uncovered a document written by Jane Austen’s niece, Fanny, that had never previously been found. We chat about this exciting discovery, as well as how Emma nerved up the courage to ask one of her present-day literary heroines, Margaret Atwood, to write the brilliant introduction to the book, and so much more.

Listen to learn more about the hidden literary friendships of some of the most famous female writers. 

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Creative Crush | Georgianna Lane Discusses Paris in Bloom

Georgianna Lane is one of the photographers I admire the most. I always eagerly anticipate her dreamy images of Paris and beautiful florals on my Instagram feed, and I find Georgianna’s use of light and visual story-telling extremely inspiring.

Georgianna’s work has been widely published in magazines, books, stationery and home decor products, and she’s the author of Paris in BloomAlthough originally from America, Georgianna has spent a great deal of time in Paris, and her photography shows how much creative inspiration she draws from the City of Light.

Miranda’s Notebook readers obviously know me rather well, as I received Paris in Bloom as a gift from the lovely Marion, a regular reader of the blog. It was the most perfect present, and I lingered over each exquisite page of the book as I read it (thanks again, Marion!)Not only does Paris in Bloom feature the most breath-taking photography of Paris and the show-stopping blooms Georgianna finds in the city, it’s also full of useful tips on flower styling and Parisian destinations.

Georgianna Lane

I was delighted when Georgianna agreed to answer some questions for an interview on Miranda’s Notebook. I asked her all about her favourite floral destinations in Paris, tips for photographing flowers, how she runs her own business and so much more. As I’m sure you’ll agree, Georgianna gives lots of fantastic advice in her answers, and now has me yearning for a trip to Paris next spring! I think it’s time to start planning….

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MN: What first sparked your love for Paris and floral photography?

GL: My passion for both has been part of me for a long time. I’ve been traveling to Paris since I was a teenager and taking photographs well before that so it was a natural progression, given the beauty and romance of both subjects.

MN: How did your career as a photographer begin? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do?

GL: Art and creativity were always present in our household when I was growing up. My mother was a musician, singer and painter and both my parents were avid photographers. We were encouraged to read, create and dream. I began writing and taking photographs at a very young age and have continued to do so always.

When I left corporate marketing as an Art Director at a literary agency over ten years ago, I decided to focus on my photography business which now includes my books, specialist stock image library, online shops, licensing and assignment work for major gardening and lifestyle magazines.

Floral photography is endlessly fascinating and always popular. However, it’s a crowded field so I dedicated myself to excelling technically and artistically.

I feel very thankful that I make a living in a creative field and am grateful that my upbringing celebrated beauty and art, as well as the practical aspects of life.

MN: What inspired you to photograph and write Paris in Bloom?

GL: I’ve been visiting Paris since I was a teenager and spending more and more time there over the last six years. My first visit at age fourteen with my Mom introduced me to the city’s parks and gardens and museums, especially those with the Impressionist painters. I loved that the city itself seemed very feminine and that flowers are such a strong influence on the design and architecture. I started working on the concepts for Paris in Bloom about four or five years ago and developed it from there.

MN: Where are your three favourite places to go in Paris to experience its best florals?

GL: I love the Jardin du Palais Royal, which has bright pink blooming magnolias in March and abundant roses throughout the summer, all set against elegant, formal architecture. Flower shops on the walking streets of Rue Cler and Rue Montorgueil always have colorful displays. And nothing surpasses the beautiful cherry blossoms at Notre Dame and around the Eiffel Tower in April.

MN: In Paris in Bloom, you mention how much you admire the Impressionist painters, and your gorgeous photos remind me of their dreamy, floral aesthetic. Is there a particular artist that inspires your work?

GL: I’ve always been very inspired by the Impressionists and the Pre-Raphaelite painters, as well as the great artists and designers of the Arts and Crafts movement, such as William Morris and Sir Edward Burne Jones. Naturally, Monet has been very influential. The romance and beauty of these artists evokes a sense of otherworldly beauty, places that exist on the edge of the imagination that just might be real.

I love romantic and beautiful works in any field and inspiration can be found in poetry, music and nature, too. The peacefulness and serenity of the natural world influences the creation of many of my images. I approach my photographs as if they were paintings, leaving out elements that are modern or distracting to create a scene that allows the viewer to visualize themselves in that location. I strive to create timeless, light-filled, dreamy images with a bit of a magical atmosphere and hope to transport the viewer to a tranquil and beautiful realm.

MN: Do you have a favourite flower to photograph?

GL: Roses are always a favorite, as well as peonies, dahlias, hellebores and narcissus. I also love hydrangea and grow many varieties myself. In spring I have tulips, daffodils, Lily of the Valley, lilacs, bleeding heart and many more beautiful blooms to photograph. In summer, it’s roses, hydrangea, clematis, lilies and poppies.

MN: Would you share some of your tips for photographing blooms?

GL: Absolutely! You can instantly improve much outdoor flower photography by avoiding shooting in harsh sunshine. The high contrast light creates dark shadows on the subject and burns out highlights so you lose the detail in a flower. A slightly overcast day is perfect, with soft, even light, that will illuminate the beauty of the flower and allow all its features to be seen.

If you can’t avoid the sun, you can block it with an umbrella or diffuser to soften the light. And you can always choose to shoot in early morning or early evening when the sun is low. Backlighting can be lovely and give flowers a glowing radiance but again, you have to ensure you don’t lose detail by overexposure. And I always recommend using a macro lens so that you can get very close to the flower and explore its structure and form.

Becoming good friends with your tripod will open up a world of possibilities for flower photography. Even if a photograph has a shallow depth of field for a dreamy quality, having one area of sharp focus, usually on the center of the flower, will give the viewer a focal point and entrance point to the image. To ensure tack sharpness, a tripod is vital.

MN: I know you split your time between Seattle, London and Paris. What are the qualities you appreciate most about these cities in terms of capturing them through photography?

GL: I’ve lived in all three cities and know them well. In London and Paris, I adore wandering and exploring the layers of architecture and history that present themselves. It’s a joy with always something new to discover and learn. As the US base for my business, in Seattle I tend to concentrate my work on our own large wooded property and garden and the flowers I’ve planted there over the years, many of which feature in my images.

I also collaborate with a number of the local flower farms on book and magazine projects so its a seasonal concentration during spring and summer, although I also spend some months during that time in Paris and in London as well. I travel extensively back and forth over the pond from February through June.

MN: As well as a renowned floral photographer, you’re a very successful business woman, running two online shops and founding a horticultural stock photography website. Which quality of your personality would you say has helped you most to succeed in business? Do you ever find it difficult to juggle the creative side of what you do alongside the business?

GL: Thanks so much! I’m very determined and once I set a goal for myself, I don’t quit easily. I think my persistence is a key trait. I truly believe that giving up on a dream is the only reason for failure. But you have to do the work. Dreaming doesn’t get it done. One of my favorite quotes is by Thomas Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” I’ve never been good at downtime and usually have many projects going at once.

It is challenging juggling both the creative and business side of my company. More and more my time is spent on marketing, social media, websites, etc. Fortunately, my husband is also full time on our business. In addition to being a marvelous photographer himself with his own successful career, he handles all the finances and travel logistics, which is a lifesaver. You cannot effectively do it alone and expect to expand.

MN: Finally, what’s next? Are there any upcoming projects that you’re able to share at the moment?

GL: I can definitely tell you that more books are coming, beginning in Spring 2018! I’m expanding product lines to include more stationery items, wall art and wearable art. And hope to launch workshops and online training next year. Thank you so much, Miranda!

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Find Georgianna on Instagram as @georgiannalane and @aparisianmoment, Twitter, Etsy and Facebook. You can also see more of Georgianna’s products and photographs on her website. Paris in Bloom is available to purchase here. You can watch the trailer for the book, which is a visual treat and wonderfully soothing to the soul:

Don’t you think Georgianna’s photography is stunning? Thanks so much again to her for a wonderful interview and for her photographs that add a little more beauty to my days.

Note: all images in this post courtesy Georgianna Lane.

T&T 42 | Clare Fisher and All The Good Things

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This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m in conversation with the author Clare Fisher, about her debut novel All The Good Things. I read Clare’s gripping, fast-paced novel when it was first published in June, and very much enjoyed it, so it was a real pleasure to have her on the show today.

Reading All The Good Things, I was so impressed by Clare’s sympathetic and moving account of what happens to a woman who has done a very bad thing, but is still, at the end of the novel, able to find hope and meaning in her life.

In today’s episode Clare tells me about the inspiration behind her novel, how her research took her to women’s prisons and why increased awareness and early prevention of mental health issues are so important.

Listen to learn more about Clare Fisher’s debut novel, All The Good Things. 

T&T 40 | The Greedy Queen

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This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m learning all about Queen Victoria’s eating habits from the food historian, Annie Gray. Annie’s recently published book, The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria is an unconventional biography of the Queen, examining her life in food.

Annie Gray is an historian, cook, broadcaster and writer, who specialises in the history of food and dining in Britain from about 1600 to the present day. In our chat, Annie explains how her interest in food and history developed, and how she first came to examine the role of meals in Queen Victoria’s life. It was so interesting to learn more about the complex relationship Victoria had with food, how she used meal-times as a way to exert power and the culinary legacy she left behind.

Annie Gray

I read The Greedy Queen a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed Annie’s engaging, witty style of writing that brought historical figures and events so vividly to life. In today’s episode, Annie’s vivacious conversation will be a delight to lovers of food and history alike.

Listen to learn more about Queen Victoria’s life and relationship with food

T&T 39 | A Chat With Min Kym

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I’m so delighted to share today’s Tea and Tattle episode, where I’m in conversation with the violinist and writer, Min Kym, about her heart-wrenching memoir, Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung.

I was sent a pre-release copy of Gone earlier in the year by Penguin, and I was intrigued by its beautiful cover and interesting premise. In Gone, Min describes the agonising loss of her Stradivarius violin, which was stolen from her at a cafe in Euston Train Station in London, and how she found her way back to music and rediscovered her sense of self after it was taken.

Once I’d started the first page, I was instantly caught up in Min’s extraordinary story and read for hours and hours one night so I could finish the book. Min’s raw, incredibly honest prose sends you hurtling through the pages, eager and yet anxious (for you know there is no fairytale happy ending) to know what comes next.

Ultimately, Min describes her book as being about love: for a person, for an instrument, for music, for oneself. Despite the deep loss that lies at the heart of the book, Gone is nevertheless a story full of inspiration and joy. As Min says at the end of our conversation, ‘I feel very hopeful,’ and so does the reader on reaching the end of her memoir. Min shows that even in the darkest hour, she found herself – and her voice – altered, perhaps, but far from diminished by her experiences.

Min Kym. Image by Orli Rose

I was so caught up in my conversation with Min that the time simply flew by, and we both said afterwards that we could have chatted all morning. This episode, then, is longer than usual, but I think when you listen, you’ll understand why.

Listen to hear Min Kym’s fascinating story about her life growing up as a child musical prodigy and the incredible relationship between a violinist and their instrument

T&T 38 | Lauren Elkin and the Flâneuse

An interview with Lauren Elkin

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Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m speaking with the brilliant Lauren Elkin about her wonderful book, Flâneuse. In part a memoir of Lauren’s experiences living and walking in Paris, New York City, London, Venice and Tokyo, Flâneuse is also a fascinating examination of the cultural history of creative women, such as Virginia Woolf, George Sand and Jean Rhys, who have found inspiration and freedom from roaming city streets.

An interview with Lauren Elkin

In our conversation, Lauren explains how her own creative self-discovery whilst exploring Paris as a student first led her to identify the flâneuse, a female equivalent to the flâneur: a male author or artist who wanders the streets of his city with an observant eye. The flâneur or flâneuse takes the part of a spectator; at one with the city, but also set a little apart from it, looking on from the outside.

The flâneur – with its masculine form – has always been used to describe a man, but in her book Lauren brilliantly argues the case for the feminine flâneuse, showing how historically women writers and authors have also engaged with city streets, drawing on their urban environment for creative inspiration.

An interview with Lauren ElkinLauren Elkin. Image © Marianne Katser

I so enjoyed hearing Lauren’s thoughts on the challenges that women still face today when walking in a city, the women she finds especially inspirational and why Paris is so special to her.

Listen to learn more about Lauren Elkin’s book, Flâneuse, and the creative inspiration that taking to a city’s streets can bring. 

A Wild Summer With Sue Belfrage

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage Interview

A few weeks ago, I was browsing my local bookshop and spotted Sue Belfrage’s gorgeous book, Down to the River and Up to the Trees. I flicked through the pages, delighted by the whimsical illustrations and suggested activities for injecting more wilderness into everyday life. Needless to say, Sue’s book made its way home with me, as a lovely addition to my growing collection of writings on the natural world.

This summer, I’m keen to experience more of nature, both on my doorstep and further afield. I’ve made plans with friends to swim in the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond, and I’m currently writing this post from the Artist Residence Hotel, nestled deep in the Oxfordshire countryside. I can look out the window and see the restaurant’s vegetable garden, surrounded by neighbouring fields and meadows.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees is the perfect companion for those wishing to engage with nature. Packed with fun activities, from sun printing to foraging tips, as well as beautiful quotes and illustrations, Sue Belfrage will open the eyes of even the most diehard urbanite to the natural wonders surrounding them.

I got in touch with Sue to say how much I enjoyed her book, as well as to ask her a few questions about herself, her work and her suggestions for infusing more nature into my city life.

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Would you tell me a little about yourself and your career so far?

Besides painting and writing in my own time, I worked for many years as an editor in book publishing. I ended up specialising in non-fiction, which gave me the opportunity to work on a wide range of subjects with all sorts of fascinating people – from healers, witches and shamans to leading philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists. And, because of my love of nature, I ended up commissioning some beautiful books by brilliant nature writers.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewSue Belfrage

What first sparked your love for nature?

Difficult to say. I remember being about two years old and peering into a paddling pool: a large dead spider was bobbing about in the water like a folded-up umbrella. Perhaps not the most auspicious start, but the main feeling I had was of fascination and wonder – and that sense of curiosity has stayed with me ever since.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewSummer Garden, Sue Belfrage

Then, at the age of six, I moved with my family to Sweden for a few years. The Swedes have something called allemansrätten, which is basically the right to roam – but it also means taking care of the countryside, something you learn at a young age. I lived in the suburbs of a small city where there were lots of woods and streams to explore, so I used to take off with my friends, build camps, go sledding and make rope swings. We were left to our own devices even though we were relatively small, and would come back at the end of each day with dirty hands and knees, having spent hours outside in the fresh air whatever the weather.

Would you tell me a little about your book, Down to the River and Up to the Trees? What inspired you to write it?

I got to a point last year where I realised I needed to make changes, so I did a slightly crazy thing and quit my job. I was lucky to have some savings and the support of my other half, and had the opportunity to spend much of the summer outside, painting and walking – and reappraising. In many ways, spending time in nature was very healing, and it reminded me just how important that connection is for all of us. By the end of the summer I think the seed for Down to the River and Up to the Trees had been sown.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewOyster Shell, by Sue Belfrage

I love how your book encourages us all to get out and enjoy the nature that’s on our doorstep. What are some of your favourite outdoor activities to do in the summer?

I have the good fortune to work at home, so on a sunny day I will often try to work outside or – if that’s not possible – I’ll leave my desk and just go stand barefoot outside for a few minutes. Natural light is a much better pick-me-up than coffee, even if you can only get outside during your lunchbreak.

I also love going for long woodland walks, and down to the coast – not necessarily to go swimming, but to walk along the strandline, picking my way through the seaweed, shells and driftwood, and doing a bit of beachcombing. I’ve got all sorts of flotsam and jetsam decorating my shelves at home.

And, like many of us, I enjoy taking photos of wild flowers and the sky. I have a bit of a thing for clouds and the patterns of leaves…

What’s your advice to people who live in urban environments who would like to experience more of the natural world in their everyday lives?

Make the most of what you have and where you live. That might sound a bit trite, but having lived in cities such as London and Liverpool, I’ve been struck by the fantastic parks, public gardens and green spaces you can find there; you don’t have to live in a rural idyll to create your own special connection with nature. (That said, I once had a stand-off with a rat on a stepping stone in Liverpool’s Sefton Park, which is otherwise a glorious spot.)

Also, whereas people in the countryside tend to rely on their cars to get about, if you live in a city you’ll often have a greater opportunity to walk – and if you’re walking there’s usually a chance to see all sorts of plants and wild life, even in the very heart of a city. Alternatively, if you can’t get out to nature, bring it to you: give a home to a pot plant, place a window box where you can see it change through the seasons (replanting as necessary), or grow your own potatoes in a bag!

It’s really just about opening up our senses and taking the time to notice the life around us, which admittedly is often a lot easier said than done these days, when the temptation can be to keep ‘busy’ rather than just be.

Have you always loved to draw? How would you describe your artistic style?

Yes, I’ve always loved drawing and still have sketchbooks that I drew in as a little girl. While their artistic merit is extremely doubtful (I was definitely no Picasso), they show enthusiasm and a sheer love of scribbling; I wasn’t worried about getting things ‘right’ but just enjoyed making marks. The same is true today – for me the pleasure lies mainly in the process rather than the result. (Though of course it’s always nice if people do like your work.)

I’m mainly a figurative artist, and do quite a bit of life drawing. I also enjoy landscape painting and print making. You can see some of my sketches and lino prints in Down to the River and Up to the Trees.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewFur, lino cut by Sue Belfrage

Besides getting out into nature, how else do you refuel and feed your own creativity?

I love reading, especially literary fiction and poetry, and I like listening to music. I also enjoy good conversation, and sharing a glass or two – plus laughter – with friends. I meet up about once a month with a writing group to share our work in progress. As well as discussing our writing, we catch up on all the news and gossip, and generally offer each other moral support – which can be a real lifeline if you’re trying to work creatively on your own. Oh, and I suppose there are healthy things too like Pilates, which is a great way to unwind.

Are there any magazines or books about the natural world (besides your own!) that you would recommend?

Nature writing is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment, and there are some wonderful writers out there, but if you want a hands-on experience, I would definitely recommend getting hold of the old Reader’s Digest Nature Lovers Library guides, which you can still find in second-hand bookshops. I find myself dipping into the Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain all the time!

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewApple Tree by Sue Belfrage

Finally, do you have any upcoming events or future projects you’re able to share at the moment?

I’m looking forward to taking part in a Wild Women’s Retreat organised by HoneyWoods Camping later this month, and then I’m taking part in the Yeovil Literary Festival in October. I’m always open to considering invitations; if I can help any of your readers with an event, I can be contacted via my website: suebelfrage.com and on twitter and Instagram (@suebelfrage).

Thanks, Miranda, for this interview and your interest in my work. I hope you have a really wild summer!

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Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage Interview

Thank you so much again to Sue for her thoughtful answers to my questions. Are you inspired to get out into nature a little more this summer?

Down to the River and Up to the Trees: Discover the hidden nature on your doorstep by Sue Belfrage is published by Harper Thorsons, £9.99.

 

T&T 33 | Historical Fiction with Hannah Kent

Tea & Tattle Podcast Interview With Bestselling Author Hannah Kent

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle Podcast episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle podcast, I’m joined by the bestselling author, Hannah Kent, to discuss Hannah’s books Burial Rites and The Good People. Her debut novel, Burial Rites, has received international acclaim and is one of my favourite novels published within the last few years. The Good People, which was released in the UK at the start of the year, is equally gripping and also showcases Hannah’s mastery in evoking a sense of place, as well as her poetic writing style.

Tea & Tattle Podcast Interview With Bestselling Author Hannah Kent

In my chat with Hannah, I questioned her about how her love for Icelandic culture and history began, the research process behind her books, what was most surprising in learning about Irish folklore and so much more. It was such an honour to speak with Hannah, and I hope you enjoy her compelling conversation as much as I did.

Tea & Tattle Podcast Interview With Bestselling Author Hannah Kent

Listen to hear Hannah Kent’s fascinating insights into writing her historical novels, Burial Rites and The Good People.

T&T 27 | Samantha Ellis Discusses Anne Brontë

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This Tuesday, I’m delighted to say that I’m in conversation with Samantha Ellis, one of my favourite writers. As well as being a highly acclaimed playwright, Samantha has written the books How to be a Heroine and Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life. In How to be a Heroine, Samantha reexamines the literary heroines she idolised as a young adult, and her latest book, Take Courage, is a biography of Anne Brontë.

T&T 27 | Samantha Ellis Discusses Anne Brontë

I adored How to be a Heroine, and in today’s episode I question Samantha a little about her first book, asking what she found most surprising when she returned to her favourite female characters as an adult.

Samantha also shares what inspired her to turn her hand to biography, and how learning more about Anne’s life taught her to be increasingly courageous in her own. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë is one my very favourite novels, so I was fascinated to learn more about Anne’s life from reading Take Courage. In this biography, Samantha truly brings Anne’s story to life and also writes openly about her own journey in discovering more about the Brontë family and her reflections on Anne’s writing.  Anne is – most undeservedly! – the least widely read of the Brontë sisters, and I was very pleased to get the chance to ask Samantha more about her thoughts on why Anne is still so little read.

If you’re a fan of the Brontës – and Anne in particular – then I highly recommend getting a copy of Take Courage to read yourself, but this episode of Tea & Tattle will give you a little taster of what you can expect from Samantha’s book.

T&T 27 | Samantha Ellis Discusses Anne Brontë

Listen for a fascinating insight into the life of Anne Brontë and her writing.