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Under a Canvas Sky: Living Outside Gormenghast

Clare Peake

6 Reviews

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Autobiography: general, Prose: non-fiction

A moving memoir from Mervyn Peake's daughter.

Clare Peake, daughter of the celebrated writer and artist Mervyn Peake, tells the story of her parents' romance and her own happy and bohemian childhood.

Mervyn Peake was born in China, the son of medical missionaries, and the juxtaposition of his exotic surroundings and the very English manners at home had a lasting effect on him. Reading Treasure Island until he could recite it by heart and waiting for comics to arrive from England had him living a childhood bursting with imagery.

He returned to England to study at the Royal Academy School and was then offered a teaching post at Westminster School of Art. There his charismatic and un-worldly presence made a huge impact: none more so than on Maeve Gilmore, a seventeen-year-old sculpture student.

The couple fell passionately in love but Maeve's parents were determined their daughter would not marry a penniless artist and sent her away to forget him. She didn't and, refusing to be parted ever again, they married when Maeve was nineteen and Mervyn twenty-six.

Mervyn Peake developed Parkinson's disease aged forty-five.

His decline was rapid and he spent time in and out of mental hospitals until his death at fifty-seven, the diagnosis never fully understood. Clare Peake writes movingly of the impact on the family and her mother's determination to continue giving her children the happiness she felt

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Praise for Under a Canvas Sky: Living Outside Gormenghast

  • Immensely touching. - Daily Express

  • Brimming with poignancy, exuberance and kindness. - Sainbury's Magazine

  • Wonderful. - The Pulse

  • A plainly written affectionate memoir that will endear the Peake family to lovers of those great fantasy novels. - The Times

  • A warm, embracing and memorable book. - Choice

  • Clare Peake's is not a misery memoir but something much harder to write, and much more moving: she has written a happy one. - The Tablet

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Clare Peake

Clare Peake was born on Sark but has lived in London all her life. She has had a variety of jobs from flower-seller to nursery-school teacher. She has three children, including singer-songwriter Jack Penate, and one grand-child. She reads, goes to the cinema, listens to music and hand-makes patchwork quilts.

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