UK | 2016
Ned Beauman was born in 1985 in London. His debut novel, Boxer, Beetle, won the Writers’ Guild Award for Best Fiction Book and the Goldberg Prize for Outstanding Debut Fiction. His second novel, The Teleportation Accident, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Encore Award and a Somerset Maugham Award. His third novel, Glow, was published in 2014. He has been chosen by the Culture Show as one of the twelve best new British novelists and by Granta as one of the 20 best British novelists under 40. His work has been translated into more than ten languages.
Three times in the recent past I’ve gone off on self-imposed ‘residencies’, where I book an Airbnb somewhere with good weather and cheap street food in order to withdraw from all non-transactional human contact for weeks at a time. I become anonymous and mute – the feral writer at work. This is a good way to get a lot done. But it’s not the only way. I now know that you don’t have to live like you’re on the run from Interpol if you want to meet your deadlines.
At Santa Maddalena, you break bread twice a day, every day, which is more social than I’d ever be in my London life, let alone in my Airbnb in Patzcuaro or Tangier. I suspect all of Beatrice’s guests secretly wish that throughout every meal she would just narrate stories from her life in the most expansive possible detail. No such luck: these meals are for real conversation. Happily, even when four hours deep in my novel left me struggling to evert myself enough to engage with other human beings, I could always engage with the dogs (even if I feared that Giamaica returned my love for her only because I threw so many sticks, meaning that at any moment she might transfer her affections to a high wind). And regardless of whether I felt like I’d held my own at a table overlooked by the presiding spirits of Chatwin, Rauschenberg, Bertolucci etc., my concentration wasn’t broken. On the contrary, I was enriched, mentally and of course physically. Back to the tower, back to work. I wrote and read in extravagant quantities.
At Santa Maddalena, you find yourself knee-deep in sedimented precedent. The friends who came for dinner last weekend. The writer who was sleeping in your bed last month. The personal idol of yours who visited in the 1980s. The 1960s masterpiece on the wall. The 1860s etching beside it. The pre-Columbian artefact on the shelf.
But far from stifling you, all this gives you the most warming, relaxing sense of enfoldment in its continuity – in an appreciation of art and books and food and wine and talk that rolls back far into the past and will roll on unwavering into the future, like some Proustian text extending into the tens of thousands of pages – and whatever happens, nobody will ever be able to take away from you the fact that your name has put down somewhere inside. Even if I couldn’t participate in all of Santa Maddalena’s special customs – with some sheepishness I admit that I have no real interest in coffee, Renaissance art or thrift shops – I venture to say I participated in the soul of the place. Santa Maddalena isn’t the centre of the universe (it’s far too pastoral for that) but it sometimes feels like the centre of everything that is pleasant in life.