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Bookmarked Blog
We are thrilled to have announced the Dymocks 2021 Book of the Year and now want to know and share absolutely everything about Still Life.

We asked author Sarah Winman about the memorable characters, stunning setting and what it means to have her novel awarded our Book of the Year.

There are so many lovable characters in Still Life. If you had to choose a favourite, who would it be and why?  

SW: I think it would have to be Evelyn. Independent progressive women have always interested me. I like writing about people who live their lives away from the norm. And although Evelyn may have been unusual for her time, women like her did exist. Most came from either wealth or a Bohemian background and so I placed Evelyn between the two. She is a woman who understands the privilege of her wealth and class. She is also gay. I couldn’t have written her in any other way than the celebration of all she is.  

What made you set much of the novel in Florence, and what has been your personal experience with the city? 

SW: The truth is, I had no intention of writing about Florence! I was in the city in 2015 when, by chance, I learnt about the flood of November 1966. Or more precisely about the young men and women who came from all over the world to help clean up. These people became known as Mud Angels. They cleaned monuments and paintings and delivered food to the elderly, and some fell in love and some stayed on. I found this deeply romantic and was transfixed by this moment of togetherness.   

I tried for a couple of years to push the idea away because it felt too overwhelming; I didn’t know the city at all, and quite frankly, did the world need another book on Florence? But that nascent flame refused to extinguish, and I began writing about the city three years later. I went back about six times over the two years it took to write and was lucky to meet a wonderful art historian Stella Rudolph, who lived there. She influenced how I wrote about the city and its art, and the effect of beauty. 

 

Read an extract from Still Life


 
When did you know that Claude the talking parrot would be a part of Still Life, and how does he serve the story? 

SW: Claude actually started off as nothing more than a comedic foil! So; there he is in the pub when Ulysses returns: a mute, moulting parrot with PTSD. Later, I realised that Claude’s initial suffering was everyone’s suffering. His is external whereas everyone else’s is internal. No one gets through war unharmed. 

And so, Claude became the commentator of what went unsaid. Almost like a Greek chorus. 

Can you tell us a little about the E.M. Forster connection to the story? 

SW: When I was a young actor back in the mid 80’s, my first agent Julian Belfrage had three major stars in the film A Room With A View. It became quite a talking point whenever we met up. Not long after I read Forster’s book and realised what different beasts the two mediums represented. The book is so much darker. More emphasis on art and class and who has the right of commentary. There’s also a queer sensibility that runs through it which I love. (For those who don’t know, Forster was gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal). 

In my copy of A Room With A View, there were notes that revealed the Pensione Bertolini was actually the Pensione Simi in real life, and did have a Cockney landlady. I was always intrigued by her. What was this boarding house like? Who stayed there? I then read Forster’s letters about his year-long trip to Italy with his mother in 1901, which became the catalyst for two of his novels. The letters were fascinating and joyous, and he was so self-deprecating and witty that I came to love him as a ‘character’. And without really setting out to do this, I started to write scenes of Evelyn meeting up with Forster - this glorious young lesbian who was free and enjoying her first sexual adventure in stark contrast to Forster’s hidden queerness. It became a celebration of freedom – including my own as a gay writer. 
 
How does it feel to have your book voted as the Dymocks Book of the Year 2021? 

SW: Oh my goodness, it means so much to me. I’m thrilled. Totally honoured. And most of all, incredibly grateful for the support Dymocks has shown, not only to Still Life but to my previous books. Moments like these, change a book’s trajectory. As writers we want our books, ultimately, to be read. With Dymocks’ endorsement, if my book falls into the hands of someone who normally wouldn’t read me, then that is pure gold.  

Thank you so so much. 
 
Still Life is available in store and online now
Still Life
Sarah Winman
$24.99$32.99
  

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