This week’s Inheritance Books are from Sarah Stephenson. Hi Sarah, have a seat on the sofa. Would you like a cuppa? While the kettle boils, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?
Although I now live near Greenwich, with two dogs, the odd grandchild and a fair amount of mess, I grew up in Bristol with a single mother (very much her own choice) and an adopted brother (my mother spun the nuns at the orphanage some tale about being married).
I had a chaotic upbringing, rarely went to school and spent most of my time playing Cowboys and Indians in a large garden, dancing or reading. I knew nothing about percentages or fractions, but was very well read by the age of 8.
I left Bristol at sixteen when I won a place to the Royal Ballet School. In London I met my father and his family, properly – I’d only met them briefly before then. From that moment, I put him on a pedestal.
I’ve had many jobs during my life; as cinema usherette, packer of books in Foyles, cleaner, actress and chef. Sadly an ear infection brought my dancing career to an abrupt halt. As an actor, I worked mainly in the theatre; in plays ranging from Shakespeare to the improvised. As a chef I’ve worked all over America, Europe and Britain, cooking in the homes of the extremely wealthy. Often fun, occasionally not. Always fascinating.
I’ve been a secret scribbler throughout my life. Then three years ago I joined a writing class in Dartford. The Write Place, run by Saga writer, Elaine Everest. That was the start of writing more seriously and eventually becoming published.
Wow. That does sound fascinating. There must be so much fiction fodder from all that!
Which book have you inherited from a generation above? Why is it special?
My choice is an illustrated leather bound copy of Shakespeare plays, dedicated to the actor ‘Irving’ and given to my paternal grandmother as a school prize in 1906. Her father was an actor manager, her mother, an actress. They toured together, often appearing in Shakespeare plays, even carrying their daughter (my grandmother) on stage in a Moses basket, as the baby Perdita in The Winter’s Tale.
Her father had grand ideas and took over the running of a large London theatre. The season flopped. They were financially ruined. In a moment of madness and depression, he shot himself in the gentleman’s toilet at Victoria station. When he failed to kill himself he was delighted at being offered a second chance. Unfortunately he bled to death in hospital, a few days later.
The children; my grandmother and her sister were taken away from their ‘irresponsible’ mother and distributed to various family members. My grandmother went to live with the elderly grandfather and spinster aunts in Beaconsfield. Her sister was sent to cousins in Canada. The children never saw their mother, again. The explanation was; she’d died.
Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why?
I would like to leave, Birds of the British Isles and their eggs. Again leather bound. Again a school prize. This time given to my uncle Stephen, who aged 16 died from a cricket accident at boarding school, in the days before antibiotics. My mother was 12 at the time. The family never got over his death. Years later, my mother took his name, calling herself Mrs Stephenson, after him. So although we know very little about Stephen, except for a few sepia photos, he lives on in my brother and me.
Your mother sounds like an incredible lady. Thank you so much for sharing your special books with us. Best of luck with your latest book.