Review: Literary Afternoon Tea at Bowood with Dinah Jefferies

teabowood

Traditional afternoon teas have become quite the thing at luxury hotels of late, and Bowood Hotel in Wiltshire does them with aplomb. Taken in the library, which overlooks a part of the estate’s beautiful park and woodland, one can easily feel transported back to an age of elegance and refinement. The range of fine teas served with a surprisingly generous selection of delicate sandwiches, delicious scones and tempting cakes, is attractively presented and impressive. An experience to be savoured.

Sidetracked as I was by the good company, I did not do the array of goodies on offer justice. I was at the hotel to attend what has become a regular and popular event in their busy calendar, a Literary Afternoon Tea. These occasions combine the delights of this stylish treat with the chance to meet and listen to a visiting author as they talk about their latest book and how it came to be written. The ambience of the library was perfect for author Dinah Jefferies, who started her talk by sharing some of her experiences growing up in 1950’s colonial Malaya where her debut novel, The Separation, is set.

Writing is essentially a solitary pursuit. However, the rules of the game are changing all the time. Where once an author could have expected to live a quiet life, creating their imaginary worlds for all to enjoy in print, they are now required to promote their work on numerous social media sites and at the increasingly popular Literary Festivals, bookshop visits, and events such as this one at Bowood.  If Dinah finds these public appearances a challenge then it did not show.

Her talk offered attendees an insight into her writing process, inspirations and the issues faced by a successful author. The Separation is her debut novel; her second book, The Tea Planter’s Wife, is due to be published in the spring of next year; she is currently writing her third book and is already considering ideas for her fourth. With all of these imaginary worlds and their characters swirling around inside her head she is required to move seamlessly between them: to talk of one, edit another, create a third and develop a fourth. For someone who claims not to have a good memory this must be quite an ask!

Dinah likened writing a book to a sculptor creating a work of art. If many people have a book inside them then this would be the block of stone. The quality of this base product will vary, as will the ability of the artist to produce something worthwhile. Creativity requires skill and dedication. What emerges may not be exactly what was envisaged when the writer first started chipping away at their idea.

Each of Dinah’s books has started with a setting, a place and time, and a plot that has been developed through extensive research. She decides how the book is to feel initially, its structure and key events. The detail of the story emerges as she writes, with editing ensuring continuity and a flow that will engage the reader throughout. She explained that she tries to avoid long, descriptive sections, aiming to offer sensory stimulation, showing rather than telling.

Dinah attended this event with her husband, who I had the privilege of talking to as Dinah signed the books that were offered for sale after her engaging question and answer session with the receptive audience. Richard exuded justifiable pride in his wife’s achievements. I would imagine her job is made easier by having such a supportive partner.

The couple of hours that I spent at Bowood flew by, filled as it was with pleasant company, interesting conversation and the ambience of a delightful setting. I hope that, after I left, Dinah and Richard were able to relax and enjoy the tempting treats offered.

I would recommend an event such as this as an appealing indulgence for all with an interest in books. I am grateful to Dinah and to Charlotte at Bowood for adding me to their guest list.