A former photographer, Jodie Chapman was raised as a practising Jehovah’s Witness but left the faith in recent years. Her debut novel Another Life has just been published and has been likened to David Nicholl’s Sweet Sorrow meets Sally Rooney’s Normal People, with the divided loyalties of Tara Westover’s Educated. Here she shares her favourite escapist fiction …
Each time I visit Paris, I hope this trip will be The One. The city that has enthralled generations of artists, spoken to lovers and charmed Americans since well before my time … I live in hope that this city of light will draw me in and finally, finally, I will see the reason for all the fuss.
Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast shows me the Paris I want. In his signature direct style, “Hem” takes the reader by the hand and leads them through its scene of the 1920s. There I am, at the next table, people-watching through foggy windows as I partake of oysters and wine, eavesdropping on my narrator as he tells Ford Madox Ford about the day’s pages, or rubs shoulders with other writers at one of Gertrude Stein’s salons. His Paris speaks to me, with its richness of colour as the leaves change, or how it is cheaper to warm oneself with a good Martinique rum at a café than to burn costly firewood at home.
And now I leave Paris in the 1920s for 16th century England, where Hilary Mantel is showing me the goings-on of a Tudor court. I’m there as Thomas Cromwell gets a beating from his father at the start of Wolf Hall, my shoes picking up the flecks of blood and dirt that spill across the cobbles. I have always had a fascination with this bloodthirsty era, ever since I learnt to recite the fates of Henry VIII’s six wives as a girl at school. As a child who always questioned the confines of the religious community she was raised in, I was drawn to the spirited Anne Boleyn and her rumoured six fingers, how her determination and passion as a woman ultimately led to her – quite literally – losing her head. After reading Wolf Hall and its subsequent Bring Up the Bodies, I made a pilgrimage to London’s National Portrait Gallery just to stare at the faces that had so invaded my mind.
While in London, I always make a habit of walking the back streets, spotting the doorways and grimy brick that would have formed the backdrop to John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga. Its tale of a London family from the late 1800s through to the age of Modernism, the scandals, the dramas, the making and breaking of fortunes…all swept me up into a world I love to visit. When I pass by Hyde Park, I press my nose against the taxi window and imagine the Forsyte siblings in their grand mansions, drinking tea and gossiping about Irene’s wild affair with June’s fiancé, or their nephew Jolyon who has flouted rules and convention by abandoning polite society for life with a governess in the stink of St John’s Wood. All those lives spent in whitewashed brick houses, the outrage over people or events now long dead and forgotten. They live within pages I can revisit again and again.
Here’s to books. The cheapest way to travel.
Another Life by Jodie Chapman, published by Michael Joseph is out now, €14.99. Chapman’s coming of age story is about first loves, and how all relationships whether between families, between friends or between lovers – deepen and change over the years.
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