Cressida Connolly is a reviewer and journalist, who has written for Vogue,
The Telegraph, the Spectator, The Guardian and numerous other
publications. She has interviewed many writers, including Alice Munro, Ian McEwan, Maya Angelou, Jeanette Winterson and Michael Ondaatje. A lifelong
lover of poetry, she has been a judge of the Forward Poetry Prizes and has
published profiles of John Stammers, Kathleen Jamie and Thomas Lynch, as
well as articles about why poetry matters. Cressida has also interviewed
artists Antony Gormley and Michael Craig-Martin and written appreciations
of Rodrigo Moynihan, Tarka Kings and David Sylvester. Journalistic
assignments have included swimming with wild dolphins in the Caribbean,
considering the advantages of the harem, the delights of chick peas,
blankets versus duvets, why dogs are better than cats and diverse other
Cressida's debut collection of short stories, The Happiest Days, won the
MacMillan/PEN Award. This was followed by a non-fiction book, The Rare &
the Beautiful, about the lives of the bohemian Garman family. My Former
Heart is her first novel.
World of Cressida
The journalist and
author talks to Jessamy Calkin about taps, virgins and her extensive
collection of Ladybird books.
52, is a journalist and the author of The Happiest Days, a book of short
stories that won the PEN/Macmillan prize in 2000, and The Rare and the
Beautiful, a biography of the Garman sisters, who inspired some of the
20th-centuryís greatest artists. Her first novel, My Former Heart, is
published by Fourth Estate in August. Cressida is the daughter of the
writer Cyril Connolly, who died in 1974 when she was 14. She lives in
Worcestershire with her husband, Charles Hudson, a confetti farmer. They
have three children, Violet, 23, Nell, 20, and Gabriel, 17.
I get up at the horribly early hour of 6.45 in order to drive Gabriel to
school in Cheltenham and then, if Iím writing, I go and sit in my car in a
very nice layby and write on my laptop. I wrote nearly all of my new book
in the car because my sister, who was dying of lung cancer, was living
with us and didnít like being woken up or having to see people, so I used
to go out. I usually do writing in the morning and reading in the
afternoon, but if Iím not writing I do vegetable shopping and lots of dog
walking. And river swimming, when the season permits.
Iím not a Roman Catholic but I very much like the trappings of
Catholicism, like incense, statues, relics Ė all the things that religious
people donít like. I particularly like the Virgin Mary because she was a
good mother. When I started to have children I was worried that I wasnít
going to be a nice enough mother so I thought that if I put some Virgin
Marys around the place it would remind me to be nicer. Then it became a
collection. The Spanish ones are good because they have detachable gold
The photograph of my dad (below) was taken by Richard Avedon in about
1963. I absolutely love it because we both look so cheerful. My dad had a
very good smile; but his face looked grumpy in repose, as mine does too.
People who see me in the street say, ĎI didnít dare say hello because you
looked so furiousí Ė but thatís just my face.
I love taps as objects. I like their utility and their classic shape; I
donít want anything to do with a modern tap. Thereís a lovely Lucian Freud
drawing of a tap, and I think he also did a painting. Artists often paint
things in their studios and most artists have taps to rinse their brushes.
Iím friends with Michael Craig-Martin, who knows about my fondness for
taps, so he very kindly gave me two pictures of taps of which this is one.
I like food of all kinds, particularly knitted food. Thereís a place in
Edinburgh where they sell homemade marmalade and knitted goods, which is
where I bought these sandwiches (below). They had clingfilm on them, which
was very amusing Ė as if flies might settle on them. Violet gave me the
felt boiled egg and soldiers. Iíve also got a knitted custard cream badge.
When I was looking round schools for my son I wore the badge and I decided
that the school where one of the masters said, ĎOh my goodness, I do like
your knitted custard creamí would be the right school. But no one said it
so we never sent him to any of them.
The artist Harry Wingfield painted the pictures in the classic Ladybird
books Ė things like boys raking leaves and girls baking with their mums.
About 15 years ago I thought it would be interesting to chase him up. I
got to know him, and when I wrote my first book I had a bit of money and I
would go and see him with a lot of cash in my pocket and Iíd make him sell
me his paintings. Sometimes he would sell them and sometimes not,
depending on how curmudgeonly he was feeling. I then curated an exhibition
that toured all over Britain, and now I blame myself that Ladybird books
have become so fashionable again and cost £7.99 in Oxfam. I have lots of
books (below) but collecting is so bad for the character, and I
deliberately donít know whether Iíve got all of them because that way lies
madness. I keep them in a Ladybird room: occasionally I let someone sleep
there as a special honour when the house is very full, but mostly I try to
keep people out.
giantís shoe (below) was in a shoe shop in Worcester, in the gentlemenís
section. When my children were little we used to go there to buy their
Start-rite sandals and they would say, ĎCan we go and see the giantís
shoe?í I gave the shop assistant my number in case they ever wanted to get
rid of it. Years later I got a telephone call: ĎThe large gentlemanís shoe
is here if you want to come and collect it.í It was claimed that it came
from Stratford, and a woman who is a friend of my motherís remembers that
there used to be a very, very tall man in Stratford who was about 7ft 4in,
so it is possible it was his. We donít know what size it is. I polish it
to keep it nice.
I have a long history with dogs. The dog that I loved the most was Sappho,
a Staffordshire bull terrier. The dog in my new book is based on her. Our
current dogs Ė Cyril and her daughter Beryl Ė are Jack Russells and
theyíre perfectly nice but theyíre not very piglike, and what Iím looking
for in a dog is piglike-ness.
by kind permission from The Daily Telegraph, July 2011