The Manchester Review

Salley Vickers, reviewed by Claire Westlie

The mysterious and beautiful Manchester Cathedral was the perfect setting for Salley Vickers to launch her new novel The Cleaner of Chartres on Thursday, October 11 at 7:30pm at the Manchester Literature Festival.

It was pouring rain as I ran up to the Cathedral and ducked through the doors. I thought the Cathedral could potentially be an awkward setting for such a lecture; however, as soon as Vickers began to speak about her life and writing I felt like I was catching up with a friend in a coffee shop.

Vickers laughs as she explains she actually had to buy her own book that very night in order to read it to us. “When you write a book, you simply don’t read it!” she laughs. She also explains that the book had been printed early and that we were the first people to read it in the world. I admit I found myself grinning because who doesn’t want to be the first to read a new book?

Salley Vickers is leading the most fascinating life. Vickers didn’t plan on becoming a novelist, but has spent the majority of her years in psychology as a psychoanalyst and also as a teacher.

Her first novel, Miss Garnet’s Angel was inspired by an experience of getting lost in Venice, Italy when she was a teenager and stumbling across a church. She did not find that same church again until she got lost in Venice as an adult and was then inspired to write her first novel.

Vickers went on to explain the conception of The Cleaner of Chartres.

“I never plan books that I write. I start with a particular person or with this book a particular place,” said Vickers. She had been to the Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France numerous times until an incident caused her to stay in Chartres for a longer period of time. While visiting the Chartres Cathedral during that period of time, an experience of watching a woman clean the Cathedral inspired the novel.

“What a wonderful job!” said Vickers. “Who would know the Cathedral better than someone who has to clean it every day?”

Vickers read us a few passages from The Cleaner of Chartres in a delightful voice which echoes through the semi-lit Cathedral. I don’t want to give anything away, but after only a few passages I am hooked and cannot wait to read the book for myself.

After the reading, Vickers takes a few questions from the audience.

A member of the audience points out that “getting lost” seems to be a common motif in Vickers’ novels and asked Vickers to elaborate.

“I do not plan my novels. My writing is my way of getting lost. I just let myself go,” Vickers chuckles as she replies.

She then quotes W. Somerset Maugham “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Listening to Salley Vickers speak was simply inspiring. Vickers has such ease speaking in front of the audience. She shared intimate details of her life (without giving too much away) and gave us insight into her style of writing.

If you haven’t attended any of the Manchester Literature Festival events, I highly recommend that you do because even if you don’t want to be a writer you can still be inspired and enjoy an evening amongst friends.

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Claire Westlie studied abroad at The University of Manchester. She is from St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, USA.


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