‘Nice way to spend a Monday afternoon xx’
These were the last words I heard from my little brother. Thirty-six hours later he was dead. Peter posted this message on my Facebook page one year ago in response to a video I shared, looking out across Fowey estuary to Ferryside, Daphne du Maurier’s house. I was in Fowey in May 2019, attending the Daphne du Maurier Literary Festival.
How the world has changed since then.
Daphne du Maurier was born on 13th May 1907, so today is her birthday. What would she have made of Covid 19 and our lives in self-isolation? If her novel Rule Britannia (which appears to predict Brexit) and her sci fi short stories The Breakthrough and The Blue Lenses are anything to go by, I think she might have exploited any creative opportunities shamelessly.
My grandmother introduced me to Daphne du Maurier while we were on holiday in Cornwall. Grandma was palpably excited by the prospect of visiting Jamaica Inn and, judging me ‘too old for toys and too young for boys’, suggested I should read Rebecca. I recall how closely I identified with the naïve narrator playing the role of new mistress of Manderley. As a geeky twelve-year-old, I too was invisible and out of my depth among the cool girls at my large secondary modern school.
Rebecca was the book that inspired me to write. Each teenage summer I equipped myself with a new writing notebook. But then life got in the way – boyfriend, marriage, children, teaching qualification, career. Yet, like Daphne’s character Janet in The Loving Spirit, ‘it seemed that there were two sides…’ Although I’d made my life choices, the yearning to write, my shadow self, remained strong.
My life sometimes mirrors Daphne’s. Like me she was a ‘daddy’s girl’, finding social roles hard to play and selfishly pursuing her own interests whilst relishing moments to be alone. She read Wuthering Heights aged twelve, becoming as obsessed with the Bronte’s as I have become with her. We’re both intrigued by things strange, unexplained and macabre and we both play at imagining – I was ‘dreaming true’ before I knew of its existence.
In her autobiography Growing Pains, Daphne says, ‘the child destined to be a writer is vulnerable to every wind that blows’. We’re shaped by the books we read and experiences we live. Daphne haunts me, permeating my creative writing like some sort of spirit or muse. Her Cornish novels inspired the location for my first novel, ‘The Changeling’. The House on the Strand piqued a life-long interest in time travel, leading to my current work in progress, ‘The Travelling Philanthropist’, and The Parasites and The Scapegoat fed my fascination with siblings and doubles and influenced my psychological thriller, ‘Three Faced Doll’.
Daphne du Maurier is my ‘shape maker’. She inspires me to write. Elements of the uncanny and macabre, so familiar to her stories, filter through in my own work. I continually explore overlaps and links between Daphne’s life and my own in a personal quest to come to know us both better as writers.
Happy Birthday Daphne.