Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Conf 148: Bye Bye Sybille

No. of words: 63,562

My stomach did a great big lurch when I got to the obits page of yesterday's paper today. Sybille Bedford has been and gone and died. I've been a fan every since my friend Jean bought me Jigsaw as a birthday present. I was in Italy on my own at the time, and literally didn't put it down. I went around Rome totally in the South of France.

I've written here before about how I have been one of her stalkers. She's the only author I've ever written to c/o their publisher. She didn't only reply, in shaky handwriting on green paper, she rang me up! which came as a shock. We had a long conversation about writing & I'll never forget her saying to me "you're a writer now", very bossily when I kind of crept around the possibilities of making a documentary about her. We had been to visit the setting of Jigsaw in the South of France, Sanary-sur-Mer, and I wanted to know where the villa she lived in with her mother and Alessandro was. We returned for a holiday the following year, it's a very pretty place, and I happily set off in the mornings on my Sybille trails, delighted to find so much that was in the book still there: the old cinema, the Café Marine Bar, Les Cypres, her house (without her directions I'd never have found it), even the chemist shop by the mayor's office where she bought her mother's morphine as a child. Also, La Pacifique, the Le Corbusier home of her glam idols, the Desmirals (named, she told me on the phone, after a wine) just down the road from her villa. She hadn't told me that this still existed, so it came as a wonderful surprise to find it. And a typically Sybillian thing to leave something like that for me to discover on my own.

I did pursue the doc idea and put it to Roly Keating, then controller of BBC4, who we happened to bump into in a French market on the same trip. He said he'd look into it, but he never got back. I hope he's kicking himself now. Though maybe it should be me kicking myself ("you're a writer now" - maybe not.)

I like the last para of the Telegraph obit:

"She refused to be swayed by fashion or to pander to popular appeal: "No one," she once said, "has ever done anything worth doing who thought about the reader."

Hmm, trouble is you can't not think of the agent and the publisher first or there won't be any reader not to think about.

As my friend, Jacqui Lofthouse, also a fan and who interviewed her years ago, said in an e mail today: 'Isn't it amazing, how a really wonderful writer touches lives?'

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

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