Category Archives: Biographies

This Much is True – Miriam Margoyles

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Hachette

September 2021

ISBN: 9781529379884

RRP: $49.99

Well, what a rambunctious and joyous ride this memoir has been for my holiday read of the past few days! Miriam did not really cross my radar until I saw her as the Spanish Infanta in Blackadder but that’s really as much as I for one needed – thereafter, I was always keen to see her (or indeed, hear her).

Much of Miriam’s work did not reach us (or certainly not me) being often UK or US theatre-based, or her many voice-over parts but when she did come to my attention it was always noteworthy – whether as the voice of Fly, in Babe, or as Professor Pomona Sprout, Head of Hufflepuff.

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(the best house don’t you know!).

Now at 80, Miriam has taken time to share with us all anecdotes, memories, significant incidents and her dearest people in a memoir that is both profound and hilarious, reflective and insightful, fascinating and vulgar – in fact, everything you would expect from this much-loved and well-respected veteran of radio, stage, TV and film.

In more recent years I have relished her documentaries which have been both well-conceived and brilliantly executed with integrity and empathy as well as her interviews – many of which have left me gasping for breath after all the laughter.

Miriam takes us on a journey from her middle-class upbringing as the only child of a respected Jewish couple, to her schooldays as the naughtiest girl at Oxford High School, onto Cambridge where she took her degree in English and then her first steps in acting, behind a radio mike with many of the greats of the day. She began making an impressive living with her many voice-over roles whether as one of the female roles in Monkey (stuff of legends that!), PG Tips or the Cadbury Caramel rabbit. Later, her career diverted to many varied roles in all kinds of genres, many to critical acclaim including her BAFTA award for Supporting Actor in The Age of Innocence. Her recognition has not been confined to her industry. In 2002 she received the OBE for Services to Drama, an award she was chuffed to receive despite some contrary political views.

Her gossipy insights into her encounters with the famous and great – as well as the famous and less-than-great – are screamingly funny and clearly her skill as a raconteur translates as easily in the written word as in her spoken interviews.

This is an absolute pearler of a read but, fair warning, if you are squeamish about ‘language’ or straightforward commentaries of the sexual kind, this is likely not a read for you. Fortunately, I don’t know anyone like that, and my friends and family are all clamouring to read this and will love it as much as I have.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in memoirs or admirers of this icon of British acting.

PS: Great interview

The Countess from Kirribilli – Joyce Morgan

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Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781760875176

Imprint: Allen & Unwin

RRP: $32.99

I was born and bred in Sydney and, though no expert or fount of all knowledge, not such a slouch when it comes to the history of my home town and yet I had never heard of Elizabeth von Armin. This vivacious, talented and popular woman forged a literary career that earned her worldwide acclaim, and led an extraordinary life and yet, in the city of her birth, there is no mention of her nor her success. Sydney has a Writers Walk, installed in 1991, which acknowledges many leading authors, not only Australian, but those who visited our country and yet there is no mention of this woman whose books were runaway successes and whose career spanned decades. After reading her story, I find that completely unfathomable.

Mary Annette Beauchamp, known as May, was born in 1866 at Kirribilli Point in Sydney to quite wealthy parents and was part of a very large extended family. Her father re-located the entire family to England when May was young and so most of her formative years were spent there. Her first marriage made her a Countess and the mother of five children and was not particularly happy but did provide her with the fodder for her first highly entertaining and witty books, which became instant bestsellers. Following the death of husband #1 she had a lengthy and tempestuous affair with H. G. Wells, which was followed by a very disastrous second marriage to Bertrand Russell’s brother, Frank, 2nd Earl Russell, which lasted a mere three years. Then followed another affair this time with a man half her age, Alexander Frere, who went on to become the chairman of publishing house Heinneman.

Following the ups and downs of Elizabeth’s life (she adopted this name early in her professional career) has been fascinating reading for me the past week or so. Her observations on society of the time in that late Victorian/early Edwardian period in particular and the insights into other famous writers, whom she collected as friends wherever she went, are both enlightening and entertaining.

Her personal life was often marred by tragedy and at times hardship, despite her status, money and success, but she triumphed over this with grace and dignity until her death in 1941. All of her works are available via Project Gutenberg but there have also been some reprinted and certainly my interest in reading at least some of them has been piqued.

In the meantime, this is a wonderfully written biography from Joyce Morgan and provides this largely ignored Australian literary figure with some long-overdue recognition for her contribution to writing.

I would urge you to pick this up for a thoroughly engaging and absorbing read- whether you are interested in writers or Australian literary figures, you will find it fascinating.

Elizabeth von Arnim monument, Buk, Poland

House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery –  Liz Rosenberg. Illustrated by Julie Morstad

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Maud

Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9780763660574
Imprint: Candlewick
Release Date: August 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $19.99
New Zealand RRP: $22.99

This year marks the 110th anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables and what more fitting way to celebrate the author who brought so many thousands of readers such a memorable cast of characters than a brand new biography.

While others have been written about this remarkable resilient woman this is the first specifically aimed at younger readers. The story of Maud’s life from small girl growing up with strict grandparents, after her mother’s death and virtual abandonment by her father traces her development as an often solitary child who retreated into her writing and books for comfort.  Prince Edward Island a quiet little piece of paradise in Maud’s youth was always her lodestar of inspiration and though she left it in later life she would always return there to refresh her spirit.

Her life, often far from happy, resounds throughout her many books and we can recognise the lonely girl, and then young woman, repeatedly stymied by circumstances beyond her control. A marriage later in life than most of her generation brought her some degree of fulfilment but was also fraught due to her husband’s mental health issues and later her eldest son’s despicable and often illegal actions.  Throughout every tumultuous interlude Maud never gave up her dream of writing – not only with a view to success but because of the compulsion to do so. Her determination saw her become Canada’s most successful and wealthiest writer, one who left a legacy around the world for generations and to this day is still revered by readers of all ages.

If like me and those many thousands of others, you have read and re-read Maud’s wondrous stories, you will enjoy knowing more about the woman behind the books. The delightful line illustrations denoting each new chapter bring a stylish suggestion of the period to the work.

Highly recommended to readers of around 13 upwards.