We had a very special ‘Meet the Authors’ event at our latest bookclub, where we met Anne-Marie O’Connor, best-selling author of ‘A Lady in Gold’ and Gael Lindenfield best-selling author of ‘How to Feel Good in Difficult Times.’
Anne-Marie has had an illustrious career as a war journalist and foreign correspondent and has written for the LA Times and Washington Post.
I opened the meeting by introducing Gael. For those of you who don’t know Gael, Gael is a psychotherapist and the Uk’s leading confidence and self-help expert. She has written over 24 personal development books which have been translated into 33 languages and sold several million copies.
Gael has faced unbelievable tragedy in her life. She generously opened up about the things that have shaped her and made her the person she is today.
Gael had an alcoholic mother and her early life was spent in children’s homes. She struggled with her mental health and had a series of bad relationships before having a complete breakdown and winding up in a psychiatric hospital. She built herself back up with the help of a couple of women she holds dear and became a bestselling self-help writer, inspiring and helping millions, all around the world.
I introduced Gael by saying, ‘that if you had to look in the dictionary for a definition of resilience it would have her name written there. I also pointed out that, ‘success is to be measured not so much by the position one has achieved in life but the obstacles one has overcome.’
Boy, has Gael had to overcome a lot. She talked about her early life and how her mother would hide her gin bottles under her bed, and how she was often left alone to fend not only for herself but to look after her younger brother and sister. Gael said one of her earliest memories was trying to cook potatoes for dinner for her siblings when she was very little and her mother was not there and how social services barged in and took them into care and laughed at her because she had not cleaned the potatoes.
She talked about her time in care and how despite it all she tried to maintain a positive attitude. How, she formed a secret society and hid things under the floorboards. She spoke of how she became quite tough standing up for her brother who was being bullied and how even though her little sister was her baby who she cared for, she was taken away and she couldn’t see her until she was much older.
After leaving care, Gael went to live with her stepmother, who in Gael’s words ‘did a Pygmalion on her,’ sending her to private school and ‘gentrifying her’ . Gael said she found this tough as she was very clearly working class when she started school and she got teased for it.
Gael finished school but not surprisingly she suffered a breakdown and severe depression resulting in hospitalisation. Out of the ashes emerged a phoenix. Inspired by those who had helped her, she started to study Psychology. After she graduated, she began using drama therapy and other psychotherapeutic techniques to help others in her role as a psychiatric social worker and through her work with the charity ‘Mind’, which in its early days had a lot of clients but not much money.
She started writing self-help books for her clients. One of them said she should get it published. Her first book was ‘Assert Yourself’. Gael, like me, is dyslexic and I can totally relate to the fear she said she felt when she gave her husband the first copy of her book to read.
She needn’t have worried – it was an instant best seller and she has gone on to write 24 books which have been translated into in to 33 different languages.
Gael said that ‘Super Confidence’, was her favourite book, as it was the first one where she really opened herself up and talked about her past.
Gael describes her books as a practical ‘how to’ rather than ‘a how or what.’ She says that you have to trust that self-help will work.
Gael also worked in a large psychiatric hospital in her early career which contained a huge ward of over two thousand locked beds. She walked around with a bunch of keys. By the time she had left, almost all the wards were open.
Gael did a MSc on men and masculinity. She looked at how men managed their emotions. She went to rugby clubs in Yorkshire and steel factories in Leeds to learn and to understand how men coped. She found the most common coping method was sport and work.
It was suggested that men channelled their emotions through anger, Gael concurred, but said women also did this. She herself had repressed her own anger and had problems dealing with it. This had informed and influenced her writing.
Ann asked Gael what inspires her? Where do her books come from? and whether they came from former clients?
Gael replied that she puts herself in people’s situations and looks at what they are going through. Her works are empathetically based and empathetically driven. The book of hers that we looked at, ‘How To Feel Good in Difficult Times,’ was written in the financial crisis of 2008 when people where literally killing themselves because of the financial and personal stress that they were under.
Gael’s philosophy and her form of self-help is down to earth. She wants people to know what to do and how to put it into action.
Rebecca asked how open do you have to be when reading a self-help book?
Gael said you have to be prepared to try and not be afraid of failing. If it doesn’t work, try something else that does.
Ann said her work was a breath of fresh air and a relief as you did not have to plough through lots of stuff to find out what to do .
Gael said she was trying to write for people who usually would not go to a therapist. Gael was completely pro people doing whatever worked for them and for trying different things until something was a fit. She had learnt a lot through her clients working out what fitted and what didn’t.
Gaels book, ‘How To Feel Good In Difficult Times’ can be purchased from here https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Feel-Good-Difficult-Times/dp/1789561779/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=gael+lindenfield+how+to+feel+good+in+difficult+times&qid=1589899090&sr=8-1
Her website can be found here https://www.gaellindenfield.com/
After Gael finished her talk, we heard from our second author of the night Anne-Marie O’Connor. She is the best-selling author of ‘The Lady in Gold’. She is also a former bureau chief of Reuters in CENTRAL America, a war journalist, a foreign correspondent and a contributor to such publications as the LA Times and the Washington Post.
The first time I met Anne-Marie at one of our book clubs she casually told me about the time she had interviewed Toni Morrison.
Anne-Marie began writing ‘The Lady in Gold’ in 2001 whilst she was working at the LA times. She started writing the book at a time when a lot of people were getting retrenched and losing their jobs as journalists. When she was sitting in a café one day she saw a small article in a community newspaper about a woman, Maria Altmann, who had had her families possessions and art work stolen by the Nazis.
Anne Marie called directory assistance and located Maria who, unbelievably, was listed. She went to her house, had a Viennese coffee and heard all about her amazing life. Maria recounted how her family knew prominent intellectuals like Freud and Gustav Mahler and how her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer was painted twice by the famous artist Gustav Klimt and told Anne-Marie about her time in pre-war Austria. When the war came the Nazis stole the portrait done of Maria’s aunt Adele by Klimt and Maria wanted it back.
Anne-Marie soon came to realise that almost all women in Klimt’s paintings were Jewish and almost all his paintings that were hanging in museums where stolen.
Anne-Marie was introduced to Maria’s lawyer, a friend of her son called Randy who had a small office. He was to take on the establishment and win.
Intrigued, Anne-Marie decided to look into the matter further. She took two months off work and began listening to Maria, looking at photos and discovering the ‘paradise lost ‘ of turn of the century Vienna. It was a time of emerging art and the beginning of the modern science of psychotherapy.
One of the characters in Vienna during that time that is mentioned in her book is Felix Salten. Madeleine pointed out that her husband’s relatives had helped him escape from the Nazis.
When the Nazis came to power, they confiscated many paintings and fine works of art and changed the names of the paintings to hide the identity of the subject of the paintings. The painting of Maria’s aunt Adele became, ‘The Lady in Gold’.
Anne-Marie finished her article for the LA Times on Maria and it was met with critical acclaim. Time passed, but she never lost touch with those she had interviewed who, despite being elderly, had minds as sharp as tacks.
It became increasingly apparent to Anne-Marie while she was researching her work that there had not been any ‘denazification’ of Austria. Viennese Nazis still often held public office long after the war. Anne Marie told us about a professor in a University in Austria who had jars of euthanised infants from the time of the Nazis in jars in his room. The scientist was turned out of the hospital in 1996 and stripped of his Austrian medal in 2000, but it wasn’t until a public outcry that the euthanised babies were buried finally in 2002.
Because of the growing publicity about these cases including Anne- Marie’s book, there has been a growing movement to return portraits to their original owners and hundreds of art works have been returned by European museums.
Anne-Marie did, however, tell us the tale of an art historian who shall remain nameless, who was demanding a percentage of the profits of recovered paintings.
Sometime after the publication of her article in 2006 at 2am in the morning, she got a call to tell her that Maria had won her case in the Supreme Court and was going to get her painting back from Vienna. Anne-Marie went home, got a 6 pack of beer and banged out a book proposal .
She sent the proposal to two agents at midnight that night. The proposal was accepted, and she started writing her book. The rest as they say is history.
Her book became a best seller and she did extensive talks on the book, connecting with many friends and family whilst on the speaking circuit.
Maria Altman’s story was then turned in to a very successful film produced by the notorious Harvey Weinstein and starring Helen Mirren.
We discussed the film briefly. Tina, who joined us from Germany was amazed that although she had seen the film twice on German T-V it was not yet published in German and there has never had a German translation. Tina said she would put Anne-Marie in touch with a German publisher.
When asked whether she liked the film, Anne-Marie said she thought the story was told well. They had, however, taken one part of the story and focused on that and left other parts out. She didn’t berate them for this, but thought that this was a good way for them to reach their audience. She thought it was particularly well cast.
Anne-Marie said she had nothing to do with the actual making of the film and did not get any money for the film. The film was one of Weinstein’s last films. She said that film makers have a growing tendency to look at works of non-fiction and buy the rights to the stories of living protagonists. They don’t pay the authors for the interpretation of that story, but argue they got all the information from the public domain.
Anne-Marie wasn’t bitter about this. She said she didn’t pursue it, as the movie did have the effect of increasing interest in her book and led to an increase in sales. Despite not being included in the film deal Anne-Marie felt her experiences of writing the book were extremely positive.
As well as talking about her book, Anne-Marie talked about her expreinces as a war journalist and foreign correspondent.
When asked what had inspired her to become a journalist, Anne Marie said she had faced a number of personal challenges at a very young age including having a disabled father. She got a full scholarship to university and started college when she was only 15.
When she was at college she was told she should become a novelist or artist. She took a year off and went to the San Francisco School of Art where Angela Davis, the black militant feminist, was one of her teachers. She got involved in a student documentary about the persecution of Chilean artists following the coup against Salvador Allende by General Augusto Pinochet in 1974. She then went on to study at the University of California at Berkeley.
When she was 25 Anne-Marie became a Reuters Bureau Chief of Reuters in Central America covering a multitude of things such as the war in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala–Everything she says was a ‘runaway train’. It was intense, and she loved it. However, she has to admit she also enjoys the slightly slower pace of life now.
Tina asked her about what it was like to be a war reporter as a woman. Anne Marie said firstly she was treated almost like an ‘honorary man’ anything feminine was not encouraged. The austere women was rewarded. Anne-Marie said because she was a woman, she could be a ‘fly on the wall’, People had a tendency not to take women seriously and not to consider them a threat. Because of this she thought she had greater access. She also recounted a time she was given shelter when searching out a story, which she didn’t think she would have received had she been a man.
Gael asked Anne-Marie how she dealt with anxiety. Anne-Marie said she goes on walks and goes to the gym. She finds exercise helps. She does also believe in the power of fish oil as a good anti-depressant. (Gael added that she believe it is also good for arthritis) .
Thinking her life would settle down, Anne-Marie then left Reuters and went on to work at the LA Times – but then the drug war started.
In 2008 she went to Mexico City and in 2013 she went to Jerusalem contributing to the Washington Post. When she was in Jerusalem, she came across many holocaust survivors, some of whom had featured in her book.
She now lives in London where her husband is Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.
Gael asked Anne-Marie how she coped with all the peace of Hampstead after her frenetic life. Anne Marie said when she first moved to London she had wanted to live down town. However, she and her husband needed a garden for their dog and something came up in Hampstead. It was only later that they realised they were in the literary heartland of London. She said she had adapted well to London and says it is nice not living in a place where there is lots of conflict like Jerusalem. She is enjoying this time in her life and is taking time to smell the roses. She has no FOMO (fear of missing out).
Anne-Marie said her life always used to be so busy but she didn’t regret it and she loved it, Now that she is living a quieter life in Hampstead she reflected that it is ‘a rewarding time for human growth’ and that it ‘has allowed her time to reconnect.’ She is valuing this time to be more introspective. She wants to write again, either fiction or nonfiction. She wants to have conversations without having to run off.
Jo asked Anne-Marie if she ever kept a journal or if she was currently writing anything. Anne-Marie said she has kept a journal but not diligently. She is currently writing some fiction. She says she finds writing fiction hard after covering dramatic real events and understands why Irish writer Edna O’Brien said she often drew on her own experiences for fiction, as she did in her novel ‘The Country Girls’. Tina reminded us that Charles Harris last week said there was a bit of him in everyone of his books.
Anne-Marie said a memoir would be harder to write because most of the protagonists in her life are still alive and she didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or invade their privacy. She said this may be why people write memoirs when they are older.
Anne-Marie’s book ‘The Lady in Gold’ can be purchased from here
Anne-Marie’s website can be found here https://www.annemarieoconnor.com/
Thank you so much to both Anne-Marie and Gael for taking part in this fantastic event.
Bookclub will meet on Monday 25 May to discuss ‘The Milkman’ by Anna Burns. I will report back on that meeting by the following Wednesday through this blog.
This book can be purchased from here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Milkman-Anna-Burns/dp/0571338755/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+milkman&qid=1589905127&sr=8-1
Our next ‘Discussion with the Author’ will be on the 1st June when we will be meeting with Michelle Harris to discuss her book ‘Gayle’s Secret’ . Again, a blog should appear shortly after that event. Be warned however – this book comes with a warning on Amazon that it contains graphic sexual content – should be an interesting bookclub!
Lisa mentioned that she is taking evening classes in creative writing at Imperial College from 6-7pm on Zoom. She says they are amazing fun. She says however that it looks like registration ended for this coming term, but they have a full slate of liberal arts offerings. Here is the link . https://www.imperial.ac.uk/evening-classes/
Lisa is also looking for somewhere in Hampstead or the surrounding area for her and her husband and two sons to stay for a summer vacation. If you have a place for rent, (preferably with a garden), this summer, please send a comment to me in the comments section of this blog and I will put you in contact with her.
TV recommendations and theatre
I haven’t seen it but ‘Seawall’ from the Old Vic is free streaming, it stars the Hot Priest from Fleabag https://www.timeout.com/london/news/watch-andrew-scott-in-one-man-show-sea-wall-streaming-for-free-this-week-051220 What’s not to like?
If you haven’t seen Fleabag you must – it is on BBC Iplayer
Ms Americana – Netflix – Taylor Swift.
Hospital on Iplayer – Showing how the Royal Free is coping with Covid
Charlie Brokers Anti Viral Wipe – Also on Iplayer
Good Causes and things to make you smile
Please support this call for an immediate cease fire of all global hostilities by the president of the United Nations. We need to focus on fighting the virus not each other.
|For those who are home learning and don’t forget to contribute to the big night in, its not too late.|