Elisa Segrave

Elisa Segrave’s first book, Diary of a Breast, will be reviewed here by Mary Beard.

‘Did that man touch our car?’

Elisa Segrave, 17 October 1996

My name is Nicholas. I am 11 years old. I like plants because they have a different life to humans, and they are attractive. They can’t defend themselves and, instead of having blood, they have chlorophyll. They can’t move. They grow towards the light. I feel proud when my plants do well.

Diary: On the Pier at Key West

Elisa Segrave, 18 April 1996

I’m in Key West on the pier, off Higgs Beach. I came to that beach nearly every day in November 1977. I didn’t know anyone; for over a week I stayed alone in the Southern Cross Hotel on Duval, Key West’s main street. It was run by two men from the Midwest. On my birthday, a professor at a university in South Carolina, whom I met on this beach, took me out to dinner at La Concha Hotel. He told me I had a religious nature and that he continually heard voices from creatures from outerspace.

Diary: The bride wore fur

Elisa Segrave, 30 November 1995

I got married in January in my dead grandmother’s fur coat. I had to take it to the furrier afterwards as the seams had split. The furrier thought that the soft chestnut fur was dyed ermine and said it wasn’t worth getting it repaired; it had split too many times before. The coat probably hadn’t been kept cold enough during the summers, he explained.

My first book is now published. It’s a tragi-comedy about breast cancer. I’ve just got back from America, where I was carrying copies of it around in a beach-bag, trying to sell it to a New York publisher. In the Random House building, there were over twenty elevators, and a publisher on almost every floor. I ricocheted up and down, darting into offices without appointments, leaving my book like a cuckoo laying eggs. In one office a friendly black receptionist gave me a copy of Caroline Blackwood’s account of the Duchess of Windsor and her French lawyer, Maître Blum. The girl dismissed my interest in a history of the Harlem Renaissance, repeating how much she loved the book on the Duchess. I read it all night on the plane back, every now and then bursting out laughing.

Paulie lops it off

Elisa Segrave, 2 December 1993

I met Susan Swan, the author of this novel about a girls’ boarding-school, in a women’s dormitory on a holistic holiday in Greece. Apart from Susan, there was Tessa, a potter from Brixton, a German called Ingrid and Marjorie, an aromatherapist from Liverpool. Susan was a cut above the rest of us. She had been invited as a teacher of creative writing and had then been given the special status of literary consultant. While the other teachers taught mime, self-healing, massage, Tai-Chi and wind-surfing in groups, beginning at 7 a.m., Susan saw aspiring writers one at a time in the café on the beach, where she sat in a stately way sipping Greek coffee. She seemed to have thought deeply about writing, how it related to one’s life, and about the relations between men and women. She quickly assumed the role of big sister, school prefect, or even the witch, the one with magic powers. I had two sessions with her: she showed me a way of analysing dreams; and, as women often do, we discussed the opposite sex.

‘Cancer Girl’

Mary Beard, 6 July 1995

Cancer must sell almost as many books as cookery: not just old-fashioned self-help guides to detection or prevention, tips on how to survive the chemotherapy or colostomy (now lavishly...

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