It was one of the memorable trips of the summer of 2009, an invitation to take the blog on a memoir-writing course in SW France to be led by Penelope Lively and Julia Blackburn, and if you missed the action you can read all about it here.
It was a special delight to meet Julia and her partner Herman because that year I had read The Three of Us, Julia's remarkable memoir in which, amongst other life events, she recounts her reunion with Herman after a gap of many years. And Julia had also done dovegreyreader asks... so I greet these poor people, who have never met me before and don't have the faintest idea who I am, as if they are life-long friends, and they probably want to turn round and go home at the very thought of having to spend a week with me.
The subject of the course was obviously how to write a memoir and I was able to sit in on quite a few sesssion as Julia shared some of her process and what her next book may entail, so I was thrilled to see a copy of Thin Paths - Journeys In and Around a Mountain Village arrive knowing that this was that book. I knew that if I could hear Julia's 'voice' as I had heard it during that course then this was likely to be a winner for me.
We had sat around the candelit table in the evenings and listened as Julia and Herman shared the joys and love of their home and Thin Paths is an account of life in their remote mountain village in Liguria in Northern Italy. Short pieces and a mixture of the personal blended together with local history, nature and travel writing, I think much to come about Herman's tough call with serious illness, as well as a wonderful account of the lives of the people that are their neighbours.
Julia and I had an affinity over our footwear and our twin red Lamy safari pens, but perhaps less of an affinity over nature. As I recall Julia, very clearly besotted with wildlife and I don't just mean nice furry cuddly things...it was she who lovingly picked up one of the enormous bright orange French slugs that we couldn't help but tread on because there were so many of them, for us to have a closer look at it...and a stroke...no thanks.
So yes, already I can 'hear' Julia's voice in Thin Paths as she recounts the tale of the dormouse, and through Julia's voice I can hear Herman's as I'm reading too
'Yes I'm alright'
he shouts from afar as Julia rushes outside having just seen Herman's car ( with him inside) plunge over a cliff outside their home. So this is all making this book a huge pleasure.
For anyone who keeps a special book shelf of permanent reading gems, this one deserves consideration. It's not a book that I want to rush, each piece offers much to think about and I want to make this one last so it will be alongside me through the summer and during that armchair trip to Italy and I shall write more eventually.