Beta blockers, method acting and flaccid ham sandwiches – Polly Samson bares all at the Virago Book Club
Virago Book Club members were treated last week to an evening of lively discussion with Polly Samson, author of Perfect Lives. From high-strength beta blockers to flaccid ham sandwiches, no stone was left unturned as Polly discussed the creativity of her collection of short stories with her editor Lennie Goodings.
Starting by addressing the linked story style in Perfect Lives, Polly spoke about the origins of the collection. Initially she hadn’t intended to revisit any of her characters. It wasn't until one or two began to ‘jump’ into other stories that it became a theme. We all spoke of our delight with that 'eureka' moment of realising a character we're reading about is someone we met – however briefly – earlier in the book.
Polly confessed that her reason to base the location of Perfect Lives in the seaside town of Brighton (although Brighton is never specifically refereed to) was due to her imminent move there. She descibed the city as a “bad tempered thing” within her work – a character in its own right, though having lived there for a while she now finds it "heaven". She employed a kind of method acting approach to her work, walking constantly, finding the streets where her characters would live and thinking about what shops they might use, where they would walk, thus creating their lives from the place they live in. Food also was important in the book – taking on the personalities of the characters - flaccid ham sandwiches for quiet, meek Richard; Ginger snaps for brittle Celia.
Many of the central themes of the collection were taken from moments in Polly’s own life. Music weaves its way through the stories - in real life Polly was becoming a self-confessed ‘piano swot’ (using the power of beta blockers to steady hands through exams). Family life and relationships mirrored stories from people she knew or her own children’s experiences. They were also an observation on the melancholy of life which “can be sad but has its bright moments too".
Polly’s love of the short story was obvious . Virago Book Club members were invited to talk about their favourite collections which included stories by Mavis Gallant, Alice Munroe Roald Dahl and Daphne du Maurier. Polly listed Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge among her favourites.
The Virago team will be following up with more on the short story as we look at Polly’s other work and some more from Virago authors. But in the meantime we would like to thank everyone for coming and for making it such a wonderful evening. And if you missed out this time – hopefully we'll see you at the next event!
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