Tag Archives: biography

Françoise Sagan 1935 – 2004

26 Nov

Françoise Sagan 1935 - 2004

“Money may not buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a Jaguar than on a bus.”

Françoise Sagan


The name ‘Sagan’ was taken from a character in Marcel Proust’s ‘À la Recherche du Temps Perdu’ (In Search of Lost Time), the ‘Princess de Sagan’. Romantic AND literary. If I were to take a new surname from a character in a novel I think it would be ‘Lambchop’, as in Stanley Lambchop from ‘Flat Stanley’, a classic children’s book from the 1980s. Not quite as romantic, but definitely more appropriate.

I have been waiting impatiently for an author with scandal to make you blush in the most extraordinary and mostly private places, and now I’ve found one. Sagan was convicted of two narcotics offenses in 1990 and 1995 for which she receive fines and suspended sentences, and she was also convicted of tax fraud in 2002 which had something exciting, and probably illegal, to do with the President of France. She was naughty and I like it, and I have a teeny bit of a girl crush.

She was married twice and had affairs with both men and women. She liked booze, drugs and fast cars. How is she not more well known? I have to admit that I’d never heard of her (the shame) but I will be ordering ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ which is her most famous books, and also her first one, which she wrote at the ridiculous age of 19. I know, annoying isn’t it?

Here are the facts according to much googling:

  • Born in Cajarc in 1935
  • Star sign Cancer – on the cusp, which I think means something to someone
  • Married Guy Schoeller in 1958 and divorced him in 1960
  • Married Bob Westhof in 1962 and divorced him in 1963
  • She had a son by Bob in 1963 called Denis. This makes me want to sing the Blonde song ‘Denise’
  • She had a long term lesbian relationship with Peggy Roche
  • Then she had a lesbian affair with Playboy editor Annick Geille and an affair with a married man who must have hoped they’d all join in, and maybe they did
  • She was mates with Truman Capote (I wrote a post about him too)
  • She had a car accident in 1957 which left her in a coma for some time
  • She died in 2004 of lung disease at the age of 69

Sagan wrote a lot of books and if you’ve read any of my other post you will know that I normally list them all. In this instance I am going to list all of her books that are available to buy at Waterstone’s. I think we can trust them to pick the most popular ones given their reputable status and upside-down golden arches that we all feel a sentimental fondness for. Deviating from my main path, did you know that Waterstone’s was set up by Tim Waterstone who was sacked from WH Smith for failing to establish the company in the United States? Neither did I. I am also purposefully putting an apostrophe in Waterstone’s because it irks me that they dropped it.

The books that Waterstone’s sell:

  • Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) – 1954
  • Un certain sourire (A Certain Smile) – 1955
  • Dans un mois, dans un an (Those Without Shadows) – 1957
  • Les merveilleux nuages (Wonderful Clouds) – 1961
  • Le garde du cœur (The Heart-Keeper) – 1968
  • Un peu de soleil dans l’eau froide (Sunlight on Cold Water) – 1969
  • Un profil perdu (Lost Profile) – 1974
  • Le lit défait (The Unmade Bed, translated) – 1977
  • Le chien couchant (A Case Study) – 1980
  • Musiques de scène (Incidental Music) – Short Stories 1981
  • Un orage immobile (The Still Storm) – 1983
  • Sarah Bernhardt, ou le rire incassable (Dear Sarah Bernhardt) – 1988
  • La laisse (The Leash) – 1989
  • Et Toute ma Sympathie – Autobiographical 1993

Bonjour Tristesse was also made into a film in 1958 starring Deborah Kerr, Jean Seberg and David Niven (I very nearly linked his name to this website). It got 6.9 on imdb, so so-so.

I was extremely disappointed that there is no Françoise Sagan fan club or society, but nothing made me happier than finding this marvellous t-shirt.

Françoise Sagan T Shirt

We salute you Ms. Sagan.

George Orwell 1903 – 1950

12 Sep

George Orwell

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.

George Orwell

George Orwell’s real name was Eric Arthur Blair (no relation to Lionel), but he changed it because Blairian sounds like a sub-standard soft rock band from the early 80s. He was a writer and journalist who coined the term ‘Orwellian’ which is used to describe authoritarian societies such as Oceania in Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and North Korea. He didn’t like pigs.

He was born in Motihari, India and then his mother moved them to Henley-on Thames when he was a small boy.  He attended St Cyprian’s Boarding School in Eastbourne, which he hated, and then attended Wellington while waiting for his place at Eton where, when finally getting there, he was taught French by Aldous Huxley (minus the LSD). He did pretty shoddily at school (Eton shmeaton) so instead of going on to University (which was too expensive anyway) he joined the Imperial Police in Burma, now officially called the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. They have never won an Olympic medal.

To cut a long story short (it was a long story), he was posted to various places around India, but while on leave in England he decided to sack it off and become a writer in London. Living the dream, George, li-ving-the-dream. He lived in London long enough for them to commemorate his dwelling with a blue plaque on Portobello Road. Nice. I live in Royal Leamington Spa where we have some blue plaques of our own, the most exciting one being for John Ruskin who “lodged” here in 1841.

In 1928 Orwell moved to Paris which inspired him to write ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. This title might give away the fact that his time in Paris wasn’t all Moulin Rouge and berets, and his writing career didn’t take off as planned. Like all brilliant writers through the decades he did a lot of crap jobs for mouldy cheese, cheap booze and the pong of failure.

Then he came back to Britain and did a bit of this and that, blah, blah, blah. Oh, he also did some teaching. This was his least exciting period.

In 1936 Orwell went to Spain to fight as a Republican against the Nationalists, but was forced to flee for his life from the Russian communists. Haven’t we all. While there he was shot in the throat by a sniper and miraculously survived, although I bet it stung like billy-o. There is a square named after him in Barcelona. You know you’ve made it when they name something after you. For me maybe a rose, or a library, or a blunderbuss!

The facts that can’t be disputed in court:

  • Born 25th June 1903 (Cancer = moody, unsympathetic pain in the bum)
  • Attended Eton school
  • Wrote books and articles and stuff
  • Married to Eileen O’Shaughnessy from June 1936 until her death in March 1945
  • He had one adopted son, Richard Blair with Eileen
  • Married to Sonia Brownell in Oct 1949
  • He died in Jan 1950 of tuberculosis

The books:

The best place to go for your literary “in-joke” clobber is Redbubble. I particularly like this Nineteen Eighty-Four slogan t-shirt.

In 1941 Orwell started working for the BBC, countering propaganda from the Nazis.  It was okay, but he quit and went on to become the literary editor of the ‘Tribune’ (a left-wing magazine) where he wrote book reviews and had the best job ever. He also spent this time writing Animal Farm which was based on the Russian Revolution and was inspired by his time in the Spanish Civil war.  It has a pig in it called Napoleon. Not wanting to give anything away, but poor, poor Boxer. Sob.

He then wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four and died.

Both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm appear in Time magazine’s 100 English language books of all time (since 1923) and the BBC’s Big Read list which cites the top 200 books voted for by the public (Terry Pratchett appears on it 14 times, just so you know).

I have a Nineteen Eighty-Four mug.

You can join The Orwell Society for a mere £20 per year. DO IT!

In summary, he wrote some marvellous stuff and was a pretty awesome guy.

John Steinbeck 1902 – 1968

22 Mar

John Steinbeck

 

I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession – John Steinbeck

(Well said that man)

John Steinbeck was an American author and the Nobel Prize winner for literature (respect). You will probably have heard of him if you’re interest in social history or have ever had a crush on James Dean.

One of his most famous novels is the acclaimed classic The Grapes of Wrath (I’m sure there’s a joke about haemorrhoid cream in that title). Written in 1939, it is set during the Great Depression in America and focusses on the Joad family, who are forced to leave their farm in Oklahoma due to the economic downturn, to seek work in California. Sounds as exciting as a bouquet made from never-ending spread sheets and re-runs Prison Break. The real appeal for me is that it was banned and publically burned in America (gosh). Starting to sound better, yes? Also, the late, great Bill Hicks’ famous last words were based on Tom Joad’s final speech, “I left in love, in laughter, and in truth, and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.” Don’t it make you want to weep into a huge embroidered hanky made of silk and sorrow? Personally it makes me wonder how so many famous people had time to factor a speech into their dying minutes. I’m going to write my final words in my will, just in case the cruelty of death doesn’t allow me my 15 minutes of profundity. It will go something like “I came, I saw, I left empty handed”. A bit like a Next sale.

Of Mice and Men is another controversial book by our new friend, John boy. It appears on the American Library Association‘s list of the Frequently Challenged Books of 21st Century, along with My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy and Captain Underpants. Sometimes I can’t express my astonishment of the human race. There is also a band called Of Mice and Men. They’re great if you like listening to scrap cars being crushed with people inside them screaming for mercy. Should you be able listen to a whole song without your ears spontaneously combusting and melting your new Bose headphones you had for Christmas from your Auntie Jocasta who lives in the Yemen, perhaps you could congratu-tweet them on @OMandM.

Another notable novel by J-Stein is East of Eden. It was made into a film in 1955 starring James “I may look dashing in leather but I certainly can’t drive” Dean. It was pretty good.

On a personal note (this IS supposed to be a biography), Becky was married three times. He married his first wife Carol Henning in 1930, the second Gwyndolyn Conger, in 1943 (there may have been some crossover hanky panky going on) and his third, Elaine Scott, in 1950. He had two sons with Gwynie, Thom and John IV, who I found out (against my better judgement) wasn’t a member of the royal family or a racehorse.

Here’s a summary for the literature section of your Friday afternoon work quiz:

  • Born 27th February (same date as my mum) 1902 (not the same year) in Salinas, California
  • Pisces (in Greek mythology Pisces represents the fish into which Aphrodite and her son transformed in order to escape the monster Typhon. Nothing to do with John Steinbeck, but an interesting fact none the less)
  • Married three times
  • Two sons
  • Liked chili
  • Died of heart disease on 20th December 1968
J-Stein hipster pink T

J-Stein hipster pink T

For any die hard ‘J to the S’ fans, Zazzle sell this magnificent John Steinbeck t-shirt for a mere £19.95 ($25.00) plus P&P. Isn’t he a handsome fellow! Plus it’ll keep your friends guessing for ages. Is it the Just for Men guy? Is it the fellow your uncle works with at the animal rescue centre who smells like mung beans?

For more information on Mr. Steinbeck please visit this outstandingly atrocious website http://www.johnsteinbeck.com/index.php. Enjoy!

Roald Dahl 1916 – 1990

26 Feb

roald dahl

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl was a British novelist and wrote a great many popular stories in his lifetime. In my previous post I said we were going to find out if Roald Dahl preferred acid to magic mushrooms, and whether he though Willy Wonka was a danger to society or a misunderstood confectioner with a personality disorder and a velvet fetish. I now feel bad. I hadn’t known at this time that he had a bit of a sad life. I mean, not SAD sad like you want to cry until your face starts to resemble Micky Rourke’s, but sad like when you hear someone died who you already thought was dead. Like Tony Curtis.

He was born in Cardiff to Norwegian parents, so I guess that made him Welwegian or Norsh. He had three sisters, one of which died of appendicitis when he was three, and then a few weeks later his father died of pneumonia while fishing in the Antarctic. Brrr! Dahl then went onto have five children, one of which (Theo) suffered with brain damage when his baby buggy was hit by a car, and another (Olivia) died of measles when she was seven. His first wife Pat also had three strokes in a row at the age of just 39. Then a few months before Dahl died his step daughter Lorina died of a brain tumour. See, I told you it was sad, and also extremely unlucky. I’m glad we got that bit out of the way with minimal fuss and very few tears. Sniff.

Here’s the timeline fact stuff for smug gits who know everything about everything:

  • Born on 13th September 1916 in Wales
  • Welsh (ish)
  • Writer and wing commander (I wish he was my Grandpa)
  • Married twice; his first wife was actress Patricia Neal and the second was Felicity Crosland (there may have been a slight crossover i.e an affair (dirty dog)
  • He had five offspring
  • He died on the 23rd November 1990
  • He has an uber cool website which I recommend you visit at your convenience or now

On a happier note, Dahl was a flying ace. Yes, ACE. I thought that was just an endearing term for someone who’s pretty damn good, but apparently it’s a real thing. Who Knew? He did lots of flying and fighting stuff and also managed to crash a plane in the desert and hurt himself quite a bit. During the war he worked in intelligence for an organisation that was part of MI6, and also got to hang out with Ian Flemming. Some say he based the character of James Bond on Roald Dahl himself. That would be brilliant, but sadly a lie. Feel free to start a rumour though.

It has been said that Dahl was, and still is, the world favourite children’s author. I’m not going to disagree, even though I have a replica of a Golden Snitch (bought from Harry Potter World) and a half calf leather bound limited edition collector’s original of the complete Famous Five stores in their original packaging. I have also tried Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, and I have to say that earthworms taste better than soap when followed by black pepper and sausage.  Earwax, not so much.

Anyway, Dahl wrote some amazing, and bonkersly funny books, both for children and adults. I remember reading one of his short stories about a boy who thinks his mother’s going to eat him because she had a big mouth. It was a long time ago, but the Rolling Stones’ logo still gives me the shivers. Probably his most famous works are those meant for children, but also give a lot of pleasure to adults. Here are the most popular (decided by me):

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Fantastic Mr Fox
Boy: Tales of Childhood
The Twits
James and the Giant Peach
Danny, the Champion of the World
George’s Marvellous Medicine
The Witches
Matilda
The BFG

To name but a few. If there’s anyone out there who thinks I’ve missed one of his greatest works then do tell. I promise not to chastise you by calling you a deluded fake bibliophile with no sense of personal space and no manners to speak of. I promise.

I regret to inform you that there is no Roald Dahl Appreciation Society for you to spend your cold, hard cash buying membership for. There is however a club, but I’m afraid you have to be under the age of 13 to join. I am going to send a stern email, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896 – 1940

6 Feb

F Scott Fitzgerald

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

(OR as my mother used to say, if you don’t have anything nice to say then make something up and hope they can’t tell you’re lying)


Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald
was an American author and alcoholic. His wife was called Zelda (not to be mistaken for the princess conceived by Nintendo who gets kidnapped a lot and wears a cloak), and they named their only child Frances Scott Fitzgerald. If the first word that popped into your head was narcissism, then I am not alone in my judgement. Their only saving morsel was that they didn’t name her Frances Scott Junior (or JR if life without abbreviations leaves you cold and befuddled).

He wrote short stories for magazines as well as penning a few notable novels that include Tender is the Night and his most famous work The Great Gatsby, which has been made into a film 5 frickin times; 1926, 1949, 1974, 2000 and most recently in 2013. A Mr. Baz Luhrmann decided that it simply hadn’t been made enough times, and when you’ve run out of great ideas the 21st Century way is to steal someone else’s. I am not a fan of remakes because I don’t understand them. They’re copies. If I, being astoundingly multitalented, copied the Mona Lisa or Rolf Harris’ portrait of Bonnie Tyler, I would be a forger. And if I wrote a book about a tubby bear called Winnie who lives in a wood with a piglet, a donkey, a tiger and an owl, and is best friends with a boy called Chris, then you may call me a plagiarist. However, if you copy a film, giving it the Hollywood razzmatazz (I hate that word but it’s tossy enough for this occasion), then you’re a genius who deserves an Oscar and an Olympic sized swimming pool full of cash and exotic fruit whose names only the gods can pronounce.

Anyway, F was an alcoholic (which eventually killed him, quelle surprise) and his wife was bio-polar and spent her last days in a mental institution, where she died in a fire. And it is said that her spirit still haunts the car park that now stands in its place. The last bit was a lie but she did die in the fire, which is obviously tragic and not to be made light of. I understand and except my shame. F also had a mistress called Sheilah Graham who was a gossip columnist. Reap what you sow Sheilah with an h!

The facts you may need to know for a family board game and/or crossword:

  • Born 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota (known as the birthplace of the great F Scott Fitzgerald)
  • He wrote short stories and novels and that’s why he’s famous
  • Married Zelda Sayre in 1920 (who was also a writer)
  • He was mates with Earnest Hemingway (wasn’t everyone?)
  • He had a daughter called Frances Scott Fitzgerald (as ridiculed in above text)
  • Alcoholic
  • Died in 1940 of a heart attack (too much booze)

The Novels:

Sadly I couldn’t find an F Scott Fitzgerald fan-club, but I did stumble across The Great Gatsby Fanpop site. It’s so shocking I dare you to look. It has 204k likes on Facebook (seriously), 27% of fans have read The Great Gatsby more than 11 times (well good for you), and in the related clubs section it cites The Twilight Saga, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and William Shakespeare. I’m joining NOW.

Also:

Q. KEY, what kind of a name is that?

A. It’s not.

Next time we’ll find out if Roald Dahl preferred acid to magic mushrooms, and whether he though Willy Wonka was a danger to society or a misunderstood confectioner with a personality disorder and a velvet fetish.

Truman Capote 1924 – 1984

21 Jan

Truman Capote

“But I’m not a saint yet.

I’m an alcoholic.

I’m a drug addict.

I’m homosexual.

I’m a genius.”

― Truman Capote

(and let’s not forget modest)


Truman Capote
, or Bulldog to his friends (I shit you not), was an author, socialite (boozer) and an all-round controversial fellow (see image).  I imagine he was a bit like marmite and Jeremy Clarkson, only better dressed. He wrote short stories, plays and novels including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, made into a classic film (although he thought it was a bit poop), and inspired a truly despicable song that’s now going to be stuck in my head all afternoon. Grrrrrrr.

He was good friend with Harper Lee (To Kill a Mocking Bird) who helped him research his most critically acclaimed work, In Cold Blood; a non-fiction novel based on the murders of four members of the same family in a robbery at their farm in Kansas.  It’s not a comedy. Capote spent a lot of time interviewing the suspects for research, and when the two men were convicted and sentenced, they invited Capote to their hanging. Given the choice between a night in watching Downton Abbey and an execution, I would have gone with the former. On a scale of one to insane, Capote attended the latter. Honestly. This may have been his turning point into drugs and alcohol. Just a hunch!

Philip Seymour Hoffman tends to play crazy-eyed lunatics and manic depressives. He played Capote in the 2005 film of the same name (Capote). When people say, “If you could invite anyone famous and/or dead to your dinner party, who would you choose?”  My answer would be, “I don’t give a mangy lemming as long as crazy Hoffman doesn’t turn up uninvited”. He looks like the kind of guy who makes a puke face while coughing out half chewed food into his napkin, pretending to be inconspicuous while purposefully making you, and all your guests know that he thinks your food is inedible bilge. I wouldn’t deny that it wasn’t, but that’s not the point. He would also refuse to talk to anyone except the cat. So yeah, he’s not coming to my party. However, he did win an Academy award for his performance as Capote, so congrats.

The important stuff for quizzes and Trivial Pursuit:

  • He was born in 1924
  • His star sign was Libra (flirtatious and self-indulgent, apparently)
  • His life partner was Jack Dunphy (that means he was homosexual)
  • He threw an infamous party and invited lots of film stars and celebrities. Then he wrote mean things about them and they got mad. How we laughed.
  • He became addicted to drugs and alcohol toward the end of his life (standard)
  • He died in 1984 of liver cancer (that would probably be the booze then)

There is a Truman Capote Society on Facebook, so if you would like any more information please ask them. I have a feeling it’s not very big though, so maybe you could also help them improve on their 102 likes.

Harper Lee isn’t one of the Penguin chosen authors (tut tut), otherwise she would be next. Instead I have opted for F. Scott Fitzgerald. I believe he’s a bit of a tosser, but we’ll see.

 

John Wyndham 1903 – 1969

11 Jan

Postcard from the Penguin Collection of 100 Authors

“When a day you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere” – John Wyndham, Day of the Triffids

( Thus teaching us the dangers of too many narcotics)

John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris was a science fiction author, known to his friends as ‘Windy’. There is a 63% chance that this fact is probably true, however the only people who can answer that question are the John Wyndham Appreciation Society members, and as they don’t exist, there’s a 92% chance they won’t reply.

He wrote a book called ‘The Day of the Triffids’. You may have heard of the film, it’s a bit like Independence Day but more believable. The Midwich Cuckoos was also made into the film Village of the Damned twice. Proving, once again, that remakes are at least 1.5 stars less than the original on IMDB. He also wrote another book called The Chrysalids which is very good, along with some other books, because he was an author and that’s what they do.

It was tough deciding which author to write about first. Random or straight out of the box? I chose random on the realisation that I hadn’t heard of the first two authors (the shame), and dismissed the next one because he looked like a paedophile and/or fitness instructor. I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when the cover smells of sweat and pants a lot, it’s hard not to donate it to the WI bring and buy sale. So I thought hooray, John Wyndham must have been super cool and really interesting. He’s not.

These are the facts you may need to know for a pub quiz:

  • He was born in 1903
  • His star sign is cancer
  • In the Second World War he worked as a censor
  • He wrote some books and stuff
  • He married a woman in 1963
  • He didn’t have an affair and wasn’t a secret homosexual
  • His favourite drink was probably ale, or whisky, or tea
  • And he died in 1969 from something that killed him

Below are the books:

If you query my accuracy on this subject, then you’re not the only one.  If you would like some more information please try your luck with the John Wyndham Appreciation Society, or start a society of your own.

Next time I will be picking through the life of Truman Capote. I suspect it might be a lot longer than this one.

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