Sally Beauman was born in England, in Devon, educated at a girls' school in the West Country, and then read English Literature at Girton College, Cambridge where she graduated in 1966 with an MA in English Literature.
Immediately after graduating, she went to live in America for three years, first in Washington DC, and then New York. During her time there she traveled extensively, visiting most of the states in the union: her experiences in the South in the year prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King, provided some of the background for her first novel, Destiny.
She began work as a journalist on the then newly launched New York magazine, and continued to write for it and other American publications after her return to England. She wrote as a critic and reporter for numerous newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Sunday Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Observer, the New York Times, and the New Yorker: It was an article about Daphne du Maurier, commissioned by Tina Brown and published in the New Yorker that eventually led to her writing her widely praised and best-selling Rebecca's Tale, a novel that revisited and reimagined du Maurier's Manderley.
She received the Katherine Pakenham prize for her journalism, and became the youngest-ever editor of Queen magazine (now Harper's and Queen). But after the birth of her son, she found the demands of journalism and motherhood hard to combine, so she turned to full time writing. Her first book was non-fiction, the definitive study of the UK's greatest theater company: The Royal Shakespeare Company: A History of Ten Decades (1982) -- her husband Alan Howard whom she met when interviewing him prior to his Hamlet at Straford upon Avon, was playing many leading Shakespearean roles with the RSC at this time.
She then turned to fiction. Her first book, the controversial Destiny (1986) earned her a record sum for a first novel: published in the US by Bantam, it became a New York Times No. 1 bestseller, and went on to top the bestseller lists in the UK, Canada, Australia and South Africa. It has never been out of print since, and - widely misunderstood when first published - is now seen as a feminist, genre-subversive novel, a study of a materialist woman in a materialist man's world.
Destiny was followed by six other novels, Dark Angel (1990), the study of a Victorian family's decline; the three linked modern thrillers, Lovers & Liars (1994), Danger Zones (1996) and Sextet (1997); Rebecca's Tale (2001), her re-examination of du Maurier's Rebecca, which won her the du Maurier prize; the critically-acclaimed The Landscape of Love (2005) which was also published as The Sisters Mortland (2006) in USA. All have been best sellers, and all have been translated into more than 25 languages world-wide. Her most recent work is The Visitor (2014).
She died in July 2016 aged 71. Writing in The Guardian, Lisa Appignanesi described Beauman as "a proud, loyal, fiercely private, beautiful and generous woman--at all ages. Her intelligence was incisive and broad. She could tell you everything, not only about the latest Man Booker list, but about gardening and furniture restoration or how to render a wall. In fact, she was often dressed in a paint-spattered shirt and jeans and could be found, between books, up a ladder touching up a ceiling--before donning more elegant attire to go to the theater."
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Searching for The Sisters by Sally Beauman
It's always so hard to say where novels begin - it's a ghostly process, I
find. When I started writing The Sisters Mortland, I knew that it would be about
stories, the truths and lies they contain. I knew it had to be set in the depths
of the English countryside, and I knew the county I wanted to use was Suffolk,
still deeply rural in many parts, with a strong farming tradition -- I wanted a
place that has grown prosperous, but been ravaged by farming practices in the
post-war years. It isn't an area of England I know that well -- I've visited it
often, but never lived there. That was a plus: I don't like to write about
people or places I already know -- I like them to be foreign, so as I actually
write they have to be found.
I also knew it would be a novel that centred on three sisters -- two of them young women and one a child when the book opens -- and one summer in the life of the sisters, a summer when the portrait that gives the novel its title is being painted by a Cambridge friend. I knew something terrible, an appalling event, would happen in that idyllic summer of 1967 and I knew I wanted to investigate the ways in which such ...
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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